The Bianchi accident investigation panel

We’ve been given a summary of the Bianchi investigation, and the 300-some-odd page report has been condensed to what looks approximately like 1.5 A4 pages.

Over 300 pages to less than 2. Holy crap. Either there are a hell of a lot of wasted words in the full text, or someone has really mastered the art of the resumé.

I can’t say much about the reasons behind not releasing the full text of the report, but it is clear that the credibility of the conclusions, such as they are, is not helped by the absence of corroborating background.

In addition, when we look at the composition of the panel, we realise that fully HALF the members have a clear and unambiguous conflict of interest in any investigation. The current positions, and indeed future careers in motorsport, of those panel members who are not dear personal friends of the FIA president depend intimately on remaining in his good graces. Mind you, I am not impugning the integrity of anyone. That’s what’s so insidious with conflicts of interest. They only have to exist to have their negative effects.

This of course rang alarm bells when the panel was formed, but courtesy, decorum and respect no doubt calmed the chuckling at the idea of a body investigating itself. I fear that chuckling was perfectly appropriate.

Let’s get a bit more specific.

The primary conclusion, that Jules was driving too fast, is, as I’ve said before, true by definition. I’m surprised at the reactions of those who feel that this is somehow unfair, unjust, or unkind. It is none of these. Young men make mistakes of judgement all the time, and some pay a grievous price for it. That is the case here. The technical details of BBW and FailSafe are just that – details.

I smiled when I read:

It is considered fundamentally wrong to try and make an impact between a racing car and a large and heavy vehicle survivable. It is imperative to prevent a car ever hitting the crane and/or the marshals working near it.

Suppose they’d said that 60 years ago about Armco? We’d not have developed the know-how that led to 6-row tire barriers with conveyor belting, and we’d certainly not have Techpro. I wonder what would’ve happened to my friend Perez in Monaco a few years ago? Actually, I KNOW what would have happened to him. Ironic, isn’t it? Somehow both goals stated in that quote seem worthy of pursuit; neither do they appear mutually exclusive.

Now it gets a bit complicated. You see, the entire summary (and therefore presumably the report itself, but we have no way of knowing that) is focused on the events leading up to the accident. There would appear to be no attempt to look at those elements of the response that are there to mitigate the consequences AFTER the event has occurred. And now I start to get rather uncomfortable.

We are told:

All rescue and medical procedures were followed, and their expediency are considered to have contributed significantly to the saving of Bianchi’s life.

The first part of this statement is patently untrue. Egregiously. The self congratulatory second part, while certainly true, is inappropriate.

Bear with me, and struggle through this excerpt from the Appendix H of the FIA’s own International Sporting Code (that concerned with “Supervision of the Road and Rescue Services”).

An evacuation under intensive care by medically equipped ambulance (equipment and presence of a doctor proficient in resuscitation on board) with an escort may, however, be carried out, provided that the receiving hospital has been approved beforehand for the treatment presumed necessary according to the casualty’s condition and that it can be reached in approximately 20 minutes (except for serious burns), regardless of the weather and road traffic conditions (except in a case of force majeure). If these conditions are not satisfied, the timed session must be interrupted.

d) Unforseen circumstances, especially the weather, may prevent the arrival, departure or return of the helicopter. In such a case, and after consultation between:

- the Chief Medical Officer;
– the Race Director; and
– the FIA Medical Delegate;
an ongoing or interrupted timed session may perhaps continue or be resumed depending on the conditions of evacuation of a casualty under intensive care to one of the hospitals mentioned in the medical questionnaire for the event and approved by the FIA Medical Delegate.

We were told at the Sochi press conference that the evacuation took 40 minutes. Twice the 20 minute upper boundary that THE FORMULA ONE MEDICAL DELEGATE HIMSELF HAD WRITTEN INTO THE REGS.

We were also told at Sochi that Jules’ condition at the end of that waterlogged siren-punctuated ambulance ride to the hospital was exactly the same as when he left the circuit. Are you kidding me?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that my Japanese colleagues were indeed able to make sure that Jules’ blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, expired carbon dioxide, etc (the EXTERNAL parameters, the ones we measure easily) were unchanged over 40 minutes.

But find the nearest neurosurgeon and ask him if the brain of a patient who’s had a head injury with immediate coma is the same after 40 minutes of transport as after 20 minutes, and he’ll look at you like you were nuts. Because you are.

Why did Dr. Saillant not address the question of EXACTLY when the Medical Delegate (his personal appointee) knew that the helicopter could not land at the receiving hospital? Under difficult circumstances this often requires near real time communication with the helicopter crew. The delegate is up in race control with nothing else to do during the race. That’s why he’s there. Why was racing not stopped? This is far from a trivial issue, and is all the more dramatic that the FIA’s own regulations would appear to have been ignored by their author, the Medical Delegate.

This is a potentially grievous error, and it is all the more shocking that the question is not even addressed. And unfortunately this is precisely the kind of result one would expect with a panel studded with insiders.

 

 

Before the reform frenzy starts

We’re just over 48 hours since Jules’ accident. Still hoping and praying for a good outcome. And of course, by now, the dust is settling, and discourse becomes less emotional, less intense, and more reasoned. I thought I’d take advantage of this period of relative calm to put a few thoughts out there.

The first thing I want to point out is that the three most severe accidents we’ve had since 1994 have all occurred through mechanisms that are not easily predictable. I’ll not go so far as to use the expression “freak accidents”, but being hit in the head with an 800 gm spring, driving into the lifting tailgate of a lorry, or aquaplaning into the exact spot a recovery unit is working are not your standard scenarios.

I say this because we need to have a bit of perspective here. Virtually every weekend we see, often with a quiet “ho hum”, accidents that in a not distant past would no doubt have been fatal. Basically, the things that used to kill and maim drivers have almost been engineered out of the system. Fire? (Williamson, Courage, Bandini to name a few)? We just don’t see it anymore (yes we had a few, but none with any significant consequences). Frontal collisions? (Rindt) We shrug off the most spectacular. Side impacts (Senna)? Ehhhhh… Flying rollovers? Shaken, but not stirred.

Not only do we almost have to invent bizarre ways to get hurt, but when someone DOES fall victim to an unusual accident, the governing body has shown itself fairly adept at acting appropriately. Felipe’s accident? Zylon visor reinforcements. Etc etc.

Jules’ accident was INCREDIBLY violent. It is a miracle he is alive, purely and simply. And this is a testimony to the entire system. Where should we look if we want to find out if there actually IS anything to change?

To start with, I’ll harken back to one of my pet peeves.

Those of you who saw the video no doubt were impressed by just how fast that Marussia was winging it as it streaked through the runoff area into the JCB. I surely was. And I was all the more impressed that:

  • Jules was certainly aware of the risk at that point of aquaplaning (and was no doubt told of SUT’s off)
  • there were double yellow flags displayed at one, and possibly two, upstream marshal posts.

For the sake of my sanity, I’ll point out again that double yellows mean that the track might be obstructed, that there are HUMAN BEINGS WORKING trackside of the Armco, and to BE PREPARED TO STOP.

I’ve been a passenger in an F1 car, and can confirm that the brakes are phenomenal. That said, given the water on the circuit, given the loading on the car through corners 6 and 7, and given the speed of that Marussia, it is indisputable that Jules carried MUCH TOO MUCH speed into that corner. By definition. He is instructed (by the flags) to slow enough to be able to stop, yet he was fast enough to aquaplane. Those are mutually exclusive options. Period.

I’ve been saying since 2010 that flag discipline is deteriorating, and it’s deteriorating fast. And no one is making properly vigorous efforts to re-establish it.

At every F1 drivers briefing, the drivers hound Charlie for a number – “how fast can i go under yellows?” or “how fast under double yellows?”. Or even, “will I be penalised if I do 0.2 sec less than the last time thru that sector…”

THEY’RE MISSING THE POINT. AND BECAUSE WE’RE NOT INSISTING ENOUGH ON THE RIGHT ANSWER, BAD THINGS HAPPEN.

The point is that the speed that’s appropriate under double yellows is variable. It’s not a speed limit, it’s a warning. Just ahead you might have nowhere to go. Or, just ahead someone’s uncle, brother, father is pushing one of your colleague’s cars off the circuit (remember the marshal whose legs you broke in Monaco Pastor? When you kept your foot in it through double yellows into Casino? I do).

I bet that the “appropriate” speed through T6-7 Sunday was probably something like 80-100 km/h – something like pit lane speed. Had drivers done that, the absurdity would have rapidly become apparent, and race control would have had little choice but to deploy the SC.

Disrespect for flag discipline is not a minor issue. It kills and injures people. If flags are respected, things get remarkably safer. If these flags had been respected, it is hard to imagine this accident happening, at least with this kind of energy.

Before we start changing everything, wrapping JCB’s in tech pro, putting SC’s out every time someone’s in the armco, let’s correctly apply the spectacularly effective safety system already in place. And let’s start by making sure drivers actually respect the SPIRIT (“be prepared to stop”) and not the LETTER (“how many tenths down do I have to be to not get a stop-go penalty?”) of the safety regulations.

Oh and one last thing: please Jules, get better fast.

 

Silverstone was a blast (2)

What about the folks in the front seat, the folks doing what I did?

The first thing to say is that there is a fundamental difference in how the medical service is organised in MotoGP, as compared to F1. With F1, the governing body, the guys who write the rules, also supply the people to liaise, coordinate and if need be work with the local team providing medical cover. The COMMERCIAL rights holder, has NOTHING to do with things.

In MotoGP, the FIM writes the regulations, and presumably has mechanisms to verify compliance. But the people at the circuit, sitting in the medical cars, work for Dorna, the commercial rights holder.  Now I’ve not thought through the implications and complications of this (not sure it’s better or worse than the set-up in F1, just different), so I’ll simply point out the difference.

In the “old days”, that is up until shockingly recently, medical care for this championship was supervised by “Dr. Costa” and his Clinica Mobile. Usually described as a legend and a demi-god by non-medical people, he was certainly his own greatest admirer. If I had lawyers, and I don’t, they’d be waving their arms madly to prevent me from writing exactly what I think of the Clinica Mobile. So I won’t. Not even to say that – what’s that? – I can’t even say THAT? Ok forget it. You all get the message, right. Wink wink? Wink wink!

The death of Simoncelli was the catalyst for Dorna to bring in a group of people who were tasked with bringing medical cover and response from the Renaissance to the 21st century.

The team is 100% Spanish, which is normal given that Dorna is too. They’re a small, friendly and highly motivated group of doctors and paramedics. They’re on a very steep learning curve, given what would appear to be total neglect over years (either that or total, severely misplaced, faith in many of the local teams!) of medical and rescue training and standards at many of the circuits visited top-flight motorcycle racing.

Interestingly, from what I can see, they’ve been “parachuted” into this environment without having followed the “usual” path we all follow. That is, junior doc/nurse/paramedic paired with an experienced person for a season or so, then years of accumulating experience and knowledge about race procedures, the clinical epidemiology of the injuries seen, etc. Then being the senior person mentoring the junior. Then deputy chief, etc etc.

This is important.

Not having that shared background “in the trenches” has a number of consequences that will make their jobs a bit harder.

Credibility: it’s hard to realise just how important this is. The shared database of shivers and full bladders, snoozes and cold sweats, of radio failures and aborted starts is almost REQUIRED before most motorsport rescue people will take your comments on board.

Real-world experience: what’s an Incident Officer? What’s the blue flag mean? Knowing that leaning on or over the Armco is dangerous. At an accident scene, knowing (and loving) that edge of chaos and the need to improvise every time.

And most important? Passion. If these folks are passionate about the sport, and about doing everything they can to make the care offered to the riders as good as it can possibly be, they’ll succeed. If they approach this as a job, they’re going to struggle. That’s because for US, the one word on all our lists of why we do this is passion.

If they’ll have me again, I’d love to work at another MotoGP race. I just won’t make it a habit!

Silverstone was a blast! (1)

Being at Silverstone this weekend, after 21 months O.O.O. (out-of-overalls), brought home to me just how true it is that I came forthe racing, but I stayed for the people. I had a blast. Here, again in a totally random fashion, my thoughts and feelings about working at my first MotoGP race.

I rediscovered that draw-dropping wonder at watching these lunatics riders on those stunning little jewels of machines. Yes, F1 holds me in thrall, but over the years I’d lost much of that very young boyish feeling of . . . Almost not believing I’m seeing what I’m seeing. In fact, I spent the weekend saying “awesome” constantly. Our standby position allowed us to watch them apexing and accelerating out of Copse. It is a seriously thrilling sight.

The open-face helmet. When I worked with Sid, we donned helmets for race laps only. After Sid retired, all the car-borne personnel agreed that we should always be lidded.

First of all, I assume that any of you who know anything about me realise that I’m pretty serious about head injury and its prevention/mitigation. Our requirements were relatively simple, and after due consideration we opted for high quality open faced helmets. In the case of the medical car crew, we felt that the most likely mechanisms of head injury ON SCENE would be falls and flying debris. (That’s why in most pictures of me ready for work I’m wearing ballistic eyewear also). It was clear that both to maintain protection as well as to foster the most professional image possible, we would not remove our lids while working. This essentially eliminated full face helmets from consideration.

Remember, we’re in a huge road-ready Merc that’s been reinforced just where you’d want it to be. We’ve got 6-point harnesses in front and we’re on a circuit that is purpose built to make sure that decelerations are as gentle as possible. Yes, of COURSE we’re travelling a bit . . . swiftly . . . but Alan and I felt utterly protected with our helmets on.

The local team providing medical cover for the Silverstone leg of the MotoGP championship is the team that covers the British Superbike championship. These guys are spectacularly devoted, utterly professional, and really are a model of efficiency, good humor and passion. They take their JOBS, not themselves, seriously.

They didn’t assume I knew nothing about doctoring for bikes, but nor did they assume I knew everything. So I learned TONS. How can that not be fun?

Interestingly, and this came as a huge surprise, there’s almost no intersection between the medical/rescue people doing cars and those doing bikes. My non-random sampling indicates that a large proportion of them are actualy bikers. But the passion, the commitment, and the willingness to tolerate hours of boredom/discomfort/heat/cold/wet/mosquitos etc, is the same as everybody out on a corner or in an intervention car, whether it’s bikes, cars, boats, airplanes or trucks out there.

Hey this is getting long. I’ll finish up tomorrow, and talk a bit about the people sitting in the front seats of the medical cars.

 

Back at Silverstone

For the past longer-than-I-can-remember, I’ve been coming to Silverstone every February to join the faculty of a three day trauma course we teach at the Medical Center. The instructors are a fabulous group, with massive cumulative motorsport medicine experience. Ian Roberts, the current F1 Rescue Coordinator is there every year, as is the Chief Medical Officer of the British Superbike series.

This past February, perhaps more as a dare, Heike (the Superbike CMO) asked if I’d come up for MotoGP at the end of August.

So here I am.

My thoughts so far?

In no certain order, and with scant attention to the importance or lack thereof of any of this drivel, here goes:

  • I’m sure it’s a total coincidence but I’m riding in Chase 1. The previously mentioned (Twitter) M550d. The power comes on so linearly that one can be fooled. It’s very quiet and quite comfortable. Not as agile as the Merc, but BMW has not yet tried. It needs to shed a hundred or so kg. Or better, 200.  A no drama mama.
  • The medical folks are a totally charming group. They really seem to be committed to getting it right, and have not been there long. Closer relations between these guys and some of the FIA medical people would benefit everyone, and help these guys move up their learning curve even faster.
  • I am staggered by the amount of time I have spend getting to, shitting around at, and queueing to leave, circuits all over the world for the past 17 years.
  • I am staggered by the amount of time I have spent sitting in medical cars over the past 24 years. I am actively avoiding thinking about the opportunity costs of this passion.
  • I had a fantastic day, learning about bikes, talking to the team in the car, and soaking up being at a circuit again.

For info, I did NOT go to the race at Spa. It’s massively nice of Mr. E. to have approved a pass for me, but stuff kept coming up that totally prevented me from actually  getting there.  Interestingly (for me at least), this was accompanied by none of the angst, drama, or panic that one would think normal under these conditions (my home GP, first race in a year, first Belgian GP not attended in 24 years, etc).

I think this means nothing more and nothing less than that “it” is officially out of my system. Yes, here I am at Silverstone, but besides this being a 6 month old commitment, it’s FUN, and it’s my choice.

I love this racing thing. I’ll certainly work at events in the future. But right now I’m working on some super exciting possibilities for the near future, and besides keeping me busy, it feels like starting to prepare for a journey, and I’ve always loved that feeling…

A petition for action on helmets

Link: Tell Jean Todt – Help Make Helmets Safer for Everyone

Since it’s pretty clear that the message of Michael’s tragedy hasn’t been picked up by those with the wherewithal to actually DO something, I’ve created a petition asking Jean Todt to commit the FIA to taking the lead on improving helmet safety.

Let’s get this done, so that when people strap helmets on, they can actually be confident they’re being protected!

Thanks so much!