SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Formula One drivers have reacted lukewarmly to suggestions of a closed cockpit in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s serious accident, saying a measure of risk is why they like traveling at high speeds.
While not excluding a closed cockpit as an option in the future, some drivers said Thursday they had mixed feelings since Formula One always has been an open-wheel series.
Bianchi suffered a severe head injury at last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix and is in critical but stable condition.
Several drivers addressed the issue of safety as they spoke ahead of the weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which comes only one week after the race in Japan.
Bianchi was injured when his Marussia car skidded off the track in slippery conditions and rammed into a crane picking up the Sauber of Adrian Sutil, who had crashed out at the same spot one lap earlier.
Risk was an inherent part of sport and while accidents stay on their minds, they won’t stop racing, the drivers said.
“We are all old enough to make our own decisions in life … so it’s our conscious decision if we want to go racing or not. I think we expressed the love that we share for racing, for the thrill, managing the car on the limit,” four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said.
“Obviously there’s always the risk that something can go wrong. I think it lies in the nature of the sport,” the Red Bull driver said. “I think we’ve come a long way in terms of safety if you look back and a lot of improvements have been made but I think if anyone is not happy, he’s old enough to say no.”
Vettel said Bianchi’s accident was a reminder “how apparent the risk is and how quickly things can change,” but that Formula One had made huge improvements in safety over the years.
Driving the fastest cars in the world was a huge satisfaction, despite the risk, Vettel said.
“The risk is, I think, always a part, or a great part, of the feeling why you feel so alive. I think if you have to make the decision, I’m fairly confident for us you’d always prefer to go racing,” Vettel said.
Felipe Massa, the Williams driver who survived a 2009 accident when a flying object that had come off another car fractured his skull, said Bianchi’s accident was atypical because it involved a tractor that happened to be on the spot. Sutil crashed into the protective barrier and walked away unscathed.
“We cannot do anything when it’s like that,” Massa said. “For sure you think about (the risk), but it doesn’t mean that’s the right thing to do. What I love to do is to race. What I love to do is to be competing. That’s where I feel happiness. That’s where I feel pleasure.”
Sutil said it was clear that racing can be dangerous, “but I’m here because I’m aware of it and I like it.”
“I will race because this is my passion and I want to do it and as soon as I feel different and I don’t feel like that any more, I will stay at home,” Sutil said.
Former champion Fernando Alonso said head injuries were “one part where we are not at the top of safety” and said closed cockpits should be tested.
“We have the technology, we have airplanes, we have had many other samples that they use in a successful way so why not think about it?” Alonso said.
While Massa agreed with Alonso, Vettel said he had “mixed feelings.”
Open-wheel racing was one of the special things about Formula One, Vettel said, although there were reasons to look into closed cockpits.
Jenson Button, another former champion who now drives for McLaren, said there were arguments to consider closed cockpits.
“But this is Formula One that’s been open cockpit since the start of time,” Button said, “so it’s a very big change for the sport to make.”
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