Putting a sock in it

If you’re a fan of F1 racing, you know that Marussia driver Jules Bianchi suffered what can only be described as a freak accident in the Japanese Grand Prix on October 4th, and is currently in a coma in the hospital in Japan. Everyone who watched the Japanese Grand Prix or read the news shortly after was no doubt shocked and saddened by the crash and the bizarre manner in which it happened.

Unfortunately people immediately went crazy with all kinds of stupid speculation regarding everything from how fast Bianchi was going under double yellow flags to whether or not the medical and safety responses were timely and appropriate. Twitter was full of this.

The most irritating instance of this to me was when Gary Hartstein, a former F1 doctor and an expert on the physical impact of racing accidents and how to respond to them, quoted some factions of the press who had made unfounded claims that post-surgery, Jules was breathing unassisted. Which, as it turned out, he was not. Yes, Gary clearly and overtly labeled his post as speculation, but it was still stupid to quote it and describe what it would mean if it were true. He must surely be aware that people are going to assume someone with his level of expertise and experience wouldn’t quote something even as speculation unless he felt it was likely from a solid source or had a decent chance of being true. It was not and it did not.

I would have completely let it go, except Gary followed that up with a scathing rebuke of comments made by Force India driver Sergio Perez that I felt was somewhat unwarranted. And even THAT might not have bugged me to the point of writing this response, except instead of merely disagreeing with Perez, he went on a full-on profanity-laden rant about how Sergio should stick a sock in it. It just seemed a little rich after his own speculative post a couple days prior.

Hartstein goes apoplectic at Sergio for admitting that drivers slow down as little as possible. Sorry, but no racing driver is ever going to give up time to rivals by slowing down more than they do. And because the drivers don’t know how much everyone else is slowing down for the yellow, they themselves are going to lift as little as possible.

I am not saying that’s the smartest or best course of action. I am saying it’s not surprising. Having lots of individuals make their own momentary judgements is called human glue, and it doesn’t work when you want a consistent response from everyone.

Even if we assume that Bianchi was foolishly flooring it around the bend and doing 180 or whatever they do around that corner in normal conditions, someone of Gary’s experience has to know that racing drivers are always going to go as fast as they think they can get away with. Despite your rage at Sergio Perez, Gary, you of all people should know he was describing the situation as it exists.

If you want drivers to truly slow down by a huge amount in situations where they have the ability to slow down only a small amount, you have to take the decision making about how much to lift off the gas out of their hands. It can’t be ambiguous, it can’t be a simple “you have to show Charlie Whiting that you lifted”, it has to be a defined speed or it has to be put in the hands of the stewards to slow the cars remotely. There is no other choice. Otherwise, the drivers are going to sometimes go faster than prudent through yellow flag situations. To think otherwise is incredibly naive and foolish.

Another aspect of Gary’s post that annoyed me was his clear disdain for Perez as a driver, which is fine, but I finished reading it convinced that he allowed it to color his judgement of Sergio’s statements, or at least let them rile him up more than necessary.

I realize I’m doing a lot of Gary bashing here, and I’m sorry. I have no doubt that medically speaking, this man is an expert and is fully qualified and tremendously capable, and I have tremendous respect for his professional experience. However, I do feel that some of the later Michael Schumacher posts he made ventured dangerously close to either speculation or uncomfortable beating of a dead horse just to have something to say, and that’s how I feel about his Jules post-surgery speculative post and his rant at Sergio Perez. Granted, we’re all entitled to our opinions, and it’s clear that I’m using my right to opine on my own website as well.

Right now Bianchi’s family is trapped between expecting a phone call with the worst news, and hoping desperately he can recover. Jules’ father specifically mentioned the Schumacher situation, and how he now understands why the family have kept quiet and there were not continuous releases of information.

I really hope going forward that journalists, experts, and everyone people trust for accurate information in situations like the one Jules Bianchi finds himself in will at least try to resist the temptation to speculate and pontificate and be first or loudest with something to say.