New Delhi: The premature death of Jules Bianchi is a harsh reminder that Formula 1 is never safe despite the drastic improvements made in safety standards over the last two decades, feels former Grand Prix driver Narain Karthikeyan.
Bianchi, 25, is the first Formula 1 driver to have been killed since the legendary Ayrton Senna was killed at the Imola circuit in 1994. "I got this terrible news a little while ago and it shows again that it can never bullet-proof in a racing car, even though safety standards have improved by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Unfortunately, it didn't look good from day one in Jules' case," Karthikeyan, who is India's first F1 driver, told PTI today from Fuji, Japan, where he is competing in the Super Formula Championship.
The Frenchman suffered fatal head injuries during the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka nine months ago, as he slid off the track and crashed into a crane picking up Adrian Sutil's car.
Karthikeyan had made a F1 return in 2011 when the young Bianchi was pushing for a breakthrough.
"He was a talented guy. He showed speed and promise in F3, GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5. He had the right people behind him. He could have achieved a lot.
"In F1, we did not speak much. Whatever little we interacted was in the paddock or in the drivers' parade," he recalled.
Karthikeyan got the sad news minutes before qualifying at Fuji. Does a tragedy like this affect a racer's mind?
"Not really. We all have to be mentally very strong. As I said, you cannot be safe when you are doing speeds in excess of 300 kmph. You have just got to respect the reality of the sport," he added.
Karun Chandhok, the other Indian to have reached F1, also tracked Bianchi's career. He too, like Karthikeyan, feels the sport has became a lot safer since the 'black weekend' at Imola and called Bianchi's accident as a 'freak one'.
"His accident was a really unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the end of the day, a few feet either side would have saved his life but sometimes the sport throws a cruel blow," he said.
Was Bianchi just a victim of sheer bad luck and F1 otherwise is a lot safer than other forms of motorsport? "Yes absolutely," said Chandhok. He recalled Bianchi's early days in the racing world.
"When I first met Jules when he was doing F3, it was clear from that stage that he had a lot of speed and also quite aggressive race craft. He wasn't perhaps as successful as I would have expected in GP2 but in F1, he did a very good job," said Chandhok referring to Bianchi getting Marussia's first points in F1 with a ninth place at Monaco last year.