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Slipstream Saturday: Remembering Jules Bianchi & Continuing the Show

This week, funeral services were held for Jules Bianchi. The promising driver suffered an accident at Suzuka last year, losing control in the wet and hitting a crane that had moved on track to recover a car that had slid off in the same area a few laps prior. The circumstances are, for the purposes of this column not worth going into; racing is fraught with all kinds of dangers and how Formula 1 handled the incident will surely be something that receives scrutiny (and has already).

What should be the focus is that a Bianchi, who ostensibly encouraged the love of everyone who interacted with him, is no longer around. Many will make claims that he died doing what he loved and how much he enjoyed driving. Has anyone ever thought about that idea? There is an inherent contradiction with the concept.

Bianchi may have loved to drive. He also likely loved to compete. However, there’s something that goes beyond both of those ideas. To be able to drive, to compete, to be the affable presence in the paddock that everyone has stated he was, one must first enjoy living. That’s the bigger picture. Bianchi loved life, and driving held a prominent part of it.

Drivers are aware that what they are doing is dangerous but trends in safety management have mitigated some of that concern. Between advances in the car’s infrastructure, to track safety, to medical expertise, drivers have never been safer – that’s a good thing and should continue to be a focus. But for drivers to actually confront the danger of driving is altogether rare at this point. Bianchi’s death may not impact much, but does serve as a reminder to both drivers and fans that a catastrophic event isn’t all that far away at any moment.

Consider the fact that the last driver to lose his life in F1 was Ayrton Senna – in 1994. That’s a long ways ago and shows how the sport has made changes to protect its drivers. While NASCAR and IndyCar have both lost drivers more recently, with Dale Earnhardt in 2001 and Dan Wheldon in 2011, respectively, both series continue to examine safety protocols and look at ways to make racing safer – even if the recent NASCAR race at Daytona and IndyCar race at Fontana bring questions.

Hence, the drivers on the grid this weekend will be confronting something rare. It’s likely they won’t be thinking about it much except when asked but Bianchi’s death still resonates. The drivers will all be sporting some kind of livery honoring Bianchi this weekend. Fans, too should remember him for it was all in the spirit of everyone’s entertainment that he died.  And with that, #ForzaJules… now, #RIPJules, #JB17. The moment of silence will be not just for him but for all of us.

Odds & Sods

  • Sauber announced they have re-signed both Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson for the 2016 season. While this move may not seem all that earth-shaking, it’s an indication that the F1 Silly Season is well in effect. For Sauber, a team that is struggling this year, not to anyone’s surprise, with Nasr in 11th and Ericsson in 16th the move makes sense as both drivers are considered to be helping pay for their ride. Or, consider that the two drivers are making 200,000 Euros each per season in F1, a relative bargain. All of that being noted, at least Sauber has their lineup for next year settled early.
  • Continuing with the Silly Season theme, let’s move on to the 2009 champion, Jenson Button. Rumors are now circulating around the British driver that he may be headed over to Williams in what would likely be his final drive for his career. At 35 years old, Button has been rumored to be on his way out at McLaren and letting him slide over to Williams would bring his career full circle. One aspect that may encourage such a move from McLaren is that Ron Dennis apparently did not fully endorse Button’s 2015 drive and that they are looking to the future with two drivers in the wings. Allowing Button to move on to Williams would bring about an amicable farewell season for all parties involved.
  • If Button is moving to Williams, then someone there is leaving, right? Valterri Bottas continues to be at the center of rumors to take over Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari. Bottas, who has shown his ability at Williams, is likely to be one of those drivers linked to a top seat in the future and the timing is right. Bottas, as is the usual practice in F1, also persists in denying the rumors even if they keep coming. To add to the fun that makes the drama of the sport, Daniel Ricciardo recently enjoyed his name being bandied about as one of the drivers to move to Ferrari. No word on where Raikkonen may go.
  • The provisional 2016 schedule has been released with a record 21 races making the calendar. The rumor that Monaco might not be part of the three-race spectacular of it, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coke 600 have fallen by the wayside. In addition, the series has gotten smart about its trips to the Asian part of the schedule and has those events lined up well rather than bouncing there and then to other parts of the world – only to return again. The curious aspect has been the announcement that two preseason tests may be eliminated to the disappointment of teams and drivers. The flipside, however, is that two in-season testing sessions may be granted (to the applause of Pirelli).

Hungaroring

The first race at the Hungaroring occurred in 1986 with Nelson Piquet earning the first victory. The compact track features 14 turns with two DRS zones, and is 2.72 miles in length. Retired driver Michael Schumacher and active driver Lewis Hamilton lead all competitors having gathered four victories apiece. Look for Hamilton to continue his success as he paced both practices to date. While Red Bull may have shown some life, Mercedes could not get proper fast laps in during the second practice due to Sergio Perez’s wild accident that ended with his car upside down.

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