A loose drain cover brought an abrupt end to an eventful first free practice of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning. With three minutes left in the session it was Rosberg who went a little wider than usual on the exit of the first corner, St. Devote. He then lifted a loose drain cover up and punctured his left rear wheel. Jenson Button wasn’t so lucky when he couldn’t avoid the bouncing cover and struck the object with his front right wheel and wing. One doesn’t need a lot of imagination to think of what could have happened if the piece of metal struck the nose cone and maybe even the cockpit area. This incident will certainly add to the discussion on head protection.
The red flag came out as soon as the race directors realised what Button had hit, ending the session then and there. Charlie Whiting, the F1 race director and safety delegate, immediately hopped in the safety car to inspect the drain. The uphill track leading to casino square has been renovated. Part of that renovation was the replacement of the barrier on top of the edge of the sidewalk. In recent years the barrier was placed right in front of the sidewalk, covering the drain in question. In between sessions the cover was welded shut and will pose no further threat.
Bianchi Family lawsuit
This incident came at an, for the FIA and FOM, unfortunate moment. During the session word broke out that the family of Jules Bianchi are taking legal action against the FIA, FOM and Marussia for mistakes that were made surrounding their son’s death. An official FIA report cleared F1 officials from any wrongdoing but the Bianchi family stated via their legal aid that: “The death of Jules Bianchi was avoidable. The F1 report made numerous recommendations to improve safety standards but it failed to identify where errors have been made.”
“As a family we have so many unanswered questions and feel that Jules’ accident and death could have been avoided if a series of mistakes had not been made”, Phillipe Bianchi said.
A safety concern was again raised by the legal team, stating: “This is important if current and future F1 drivers are to have confidence that safety in the sport will be put first. If this had been the case in Suzuka, Jules would most likely have been alive today, competing in the sport he loved so much.”
Several (former) drivers had previously expressed concerns about outside agencies that pose a threat to the drivers. Especially the towing crane has been scrutinized before and labelled as a potential thread as early as 2007 during the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. After several cars had been washed off the circuit into the gravelbed it was Liuzzi who slid off and touched an oncoming crane.
The only party that seems to escape any legal action are the race organisers in Japan who refused to let the race start earlier even though both FOM and FIA requested such to avoid trouble with an oncoming storm combined with a lack of daylight at the end of the afternoon.
Formula 1 safety is an ever ongoing process and the death of Jules Bianchi was another lesson. Virtual Safety Car is one of the measures that have been taken in order to improve the safety of the drivers and the marshalls on track alike. Jules’ death hasn’t been in vain but this lawsuit will further determine if there have been serious cases of neglect during that weekend.