Bianchi tragedy casts pall over Hungarian race

Lewis Hamilton, at the Hungaroring circuit near Budapest yesterday, is confident that safety will continue to "improve even further".
Lewis Hamilton, at the Hungaroring circuit near Budapest yesterday, is confident that safety will continue to "improve even further".PHOTO: REUTERS

BUDAPEST • Three days after attending the funeral of their colleague Jules Bianchi, Formula One's leading drivers gather again today for this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix. It is the 10th race of a season dominated by Mercedes and their duelling duo of defending champion Lewis Hamilton and challenger Nico Rosberg.

Following emotional scenes in Nice, where Frenchman Bianchi was buried after his death last Friday from injuries suffered in a collision with a recovery vehicle at last year's Japanese Grand Prix, the mood in the paddock at the Hungaroring circuit, north of the capital city, is likely to be more subdued than usual on the eve of F1's mid-season "summer" break.

Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by 17 points in this year's championship, is in pursuit of his third title. But he made it clear this week that he will have much more on his mind as he seeks to extend that advantage on a sun-baked, tight and demanding track where he has traditionally shone in past seasons.

"Saying goodbye to Jules was incredibly hard for everyone," he said. "Now, our sport embarks on a tough road ahead. We have made great progress for safety thus far and I know that the FIA will continue to make steps forward to improve even further."

Since Bianchi, 25, crashed last October, the sport has reviewed many of its safety procedures.

Most notable are the introduction of a "virtual" safety car to try and avoid any repeat.

Much focus this weekend will be on the emotional and mental stability of the drivers who have appeared most affected by Bianchi's death. Ferrari also plan to decorate their garage in a visual tribute to the young driver they were grooming for stardom.

Memories will be all around them as they meet, talk, drive and race. And they will almost certainly be upset during the minute's silence on Sunday, 15 minutes before the start of the race.

Mercedes, a team who have experienced more tragedy than most in their long history in motor sports, insist they will help in the ongoing campaign for improved safety.

"My first thoughts go to the family and friends of Jules - the loss of a child is something for which there are no words - and on behalf of the team, I send them strength for the days and weeks ahead," said team boss Toto Wolff. "We will honour his memory by continuing to improve the safety of the drivers, team members, circuit workers and spectators under the leadership of the FIA."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2015, with the headline 'Bianchi tragedy casts pall over Hungarian race'. Print Edition | Subscribe