Formula One drivers and teams united in anger after Pierre Gasly drove past a recovery vehicle at high speed in heavy rain at the Japanese Grand Prix, with the Alpha Tauri driver saying he could have died.
The Frenchman had pitted to replace a front wing damaged by debris from Carlos Sainz’s earlier crash and was trying to catch up with the rest of the field in the opening few laps when he passed the vehicle recovering Sainz’s car.
Shortly afterwards, the race was stopped, and an almost two-hour delay followed while the rain eased.
The incident evoked memories of Jules Bianchi’s crash on the same circuit eight years ago, when he suffered fatal head injuries after he hit a recovery tractor.
“We lost Jules already,” Gasly told Sky Sports. “We all lost an amazing guy, an amazing driver, for the reasons that we know. Eight years ago, on the same track, in the same conditions, with a crane.
“Obviously I got scared. Obviously if I would have lost the car in a similar way Carlos lost it the lap before – it doesn’t matter the speed, 200kph, 100 – I would have died, as simple as that. I don’t understand.
“It’s disrespectful to Jules, disrespectful to his family. All of us are risking our lives out there. We are doing the best job in the world but what we are asking is to at least keep us safe, it’s already dangerous enough.
“I’m just extremely grateful that I’m here and tonight I’m going to call my family and all my loved ones and the outcome is what it is. I passed two meters from that crane, and if I was two meters to the left I would have been dead.”
Bianchi’s father, Philippe, echoed Gasly, writing on Instagram: “No respect for the life of the driver, no respect for Jules’ memory. Incredible.”
Other drivers and teams also condemned the decision to allow a recovery vehicle onto the track.
“Even behind Safety Car, we are going 100, 150kph and still at those speeds we see nothing,” Sainz told Sky Sports.
“So if one driver decides to get a bit out of the racing line, has a small aquaplaning, hits a button on the steering wheel and gets a bit out of line and hits a tractor, it’s over, no?”
The FIA, motorsport’s governing body, said it has launched “a thorough review of the events involving the deployment of recovery vehicles during the Japanese Grand Prix,” read a statement on its website, following feedback from the drivers.
“This is part of the common practice of analysis of all race incidents to ensure continual improvements of processes and procedures.”
Gasly later received a 20-second penalty and two penalty points for speeding under red flag conditions.
“That’s the lowest point we’ve seen in the sport for years,” Red Bull driver Sergio Perez told Sky Sports. “What happened today just makes me so angry. I just hope ever in the sport we never get to see this situation ever again.
“We saw what happened here a few years ago with our friend Jules and absolutely I don’t care about what was the reason for that. It should never happen again, ever in any category.”