Some of Formula One’s drivers have given a fascinating insight into their mindsets as they approach their first grand prix after the death of Jules Bianchi.
Bianchi, age 25, lost his fight for life after sustaining a diffuse axonal injury in a crash during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix nine months ago.
He was the first fatality from grand prix weekend injuries since Ayrton Senna 21 years ago — the first driver to die in a generation — and though 2015’s crop of drivers are still feeling emotionally raw after Tuesday’s funeral, all agree that nothing changes once the helmet goes on.
“I don’t think it changes,” said Felipe Massa. “When you close your visor, you want the best, you want to finish in front. I don’t think it will change.
Massa is one of the sport’s senior drivers. At 34 years old, the Brazilian is married and has one son, all of which have been theorised to take a competitive edge off a driver because they have more to lose in the event of a serious accident.
“I don’t even think I have a mother, father, my son, my wife, or whatever, you don’t think about it. You just think about your job, your work. I don’t think that will change,” he said.
The Williams driver also used a practical example because the Hungaroring is where he sustained a serious head injury from a detached metal coil striking him above the left eye.
The accident, he says, has no effect on him even when racing in Budapest.
“When I pass that place, I don’t remember that I had the accident there. You don’t think about it, it stays in the past. Now I remember about my accident, but when I’m driving, I don’t know.”
Romain Grosjean said he considered risk taking to be in a racing driver’s DNA, and that considering danger isn’t something that enters his head.
“I think it’s in our nature to take risks and think, when you drive, especially a Formula One car going that quickly around the corner, that you need to be 100 per cent in the car and not thinking about what could happen.
“That’s what we’ve always been doing and that’s what racing drivers will always do.”
Felipe Nasr, racing in his first year for Sauber, agreed, but added that it was up to each individual driver to assess what’s best for them.
“It’s also linked to us drivers to know this kind of situation and to be aware of it,” he said. “We all have to know what is good for us. what we have to do and what is safe for us to do.
“As all the others do, like I do as well, when we are racing, we are not thinking about this thing.”
Sergio Perez, who suffered missed two grands prix with concussion after sustaining a serious head injury in a crash at the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix, agreed that a higher perception of risk does little to dull a driver’s competitiveness.
“Obviously when something like this happens you know that there is a big level of risk,” said the Mexican. “It’s what we love to do and when something like this happens to our colleague, we all know it could have been ourselves in that car — but it doesn’t really change anything.
“I’ve had some accidents in the past and you know that the risk is there. We all know it can happen in any practice, any day, as soon as you jump into the car. You know that the risk is very high but it doesn’t really change anything.”
“We just give it all. I don’t think it will change. We all have to make Jules very proud.”
Roberto Merhi, a 2015 rookie and aged 24 years old agreed that his driving style remains unaffected, though conceded he thinks more about the dangers of motor racing.
“I think for a single lap of for a start — a normal situation — I think will not change,” said the Manor driver, “but this time, when I left my house, it was not the same the way I said goodbye to family.
“I don’t think it changes much but for sure you think more about it.”
Merhi brought an interesting insight to the table given his concurrent entry into the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship, in which he encountered an accident that required the use of a recovery vehicle.
The Spaniard admitted that Jules’ crash has made him more concerned about the use of heavy lifters appearing on the circuit.
“I was racing here with the World Series [by Renault], and out of the fastest corner on the track was a car crash and a tractor came in to recover the car.
“They didn’t put a Safety Car and, to be honest, when I saw that situation and a yellow flag I really slowed down. Maybe in the past I would not have slowed down so much.
“To be honest I didn’t feel so comfortable in that situation and I really lifted from that corner and maybe losing three tenths per lap because I think it’s a dangerous corner and a dangerous situation, as we can see.
“You think more about it. You’re more afraid that you know things can happen.”