SUZUKA, Japan — Pierre Gasly says he was just two metres away from being involved in a fatal accident at the Japanese Grand Prix after labelling race control’s decision to release a recovery vehicle onto the track in heavy rain unacceptable.
Gasly was doing 200 km/h when he came across a crane, which had been deployed under safety car conditions to recover Carlos Sainz’s wrecked Ferrari at Turn 12.
After making an unscheduled pit stop, the AlphaTauri driver was attempting to catch the queue of cars behind the safety car and encountered the recovery vehicle just after the race was suspended by red flags.
Gasly explained he only saw the crane at the last minute and came within two metres of a collision.
“I tried to slow down, not in an erratic manner, because if I slammed the brake, I would have lost the car and ended up in the crane,” he said.
“I was two metres away from passing away today, which is not acceptable as a racing driver.”
Gasly went to see FIA race director Eduardo Freitas after the incident but was unwilling to comment publically on his conversation.
However, he said he had stuck to the delta time on his dashboard under the safety car, which is designed to stop drivers racing to catch up with the train of cars behind the safety car in such conditions, and could not understand why the decision had been taken to release the recovery vehicle before red flagging the race.
“We were all in the pitlane a minute later [for the red flag],” he added. “Risking my life for one minute, I don’t think that is acceptable.
“We have a delta lap time, there is a certain process that we’ve got to follow under the safety car, I was respecting it and there was a crane on the racing line.”
Gasly said the incident, which will be investigated by the FIA, bore similarities to the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix when Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery vehicle and died the following year from the brain injuries he sustained.
“We lost Jules eight years ago in similar conditions, with a crane on track in the gravel,” Gasly said. “I don’t understand how eight years later, in similar conditions, we can see a crane. Not even in the gravel, on the racing line.
“It is not respectful to Jules, his family or his loved ones, or all of us. It was a dramatic incident. On that day we learned that we don’t want to see tractors in these conditions.
“If I lost the car in the same way that Carlos [Sainz] lost his car on the lap before? I was doing 200 km/h, but even at 100 km/h, it’s a 12 tonnes crane. If I hit it, I would be dead right now.
“I am extremely grateful that I am still standing. Still able to call my family, my loved ones, and nothing happened.
“For all us drivers — I hope this is the last time we see a crane.”
Gasly said the FIA must look at ways to change its procedures so that there is never a repeat.
“We all suffered from Jules’ accident. If we could go back and change the situation on that day, he would still be here.
“For the future, what I want is for all my colleagues to be safe, in F1 and younger categories. Hopefully we can finally learn from this situation.”
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