A dark day for Formula 1
As F1 Racing closed for press, Jules Bianchi was in an intensive care unit of the Mie General Medical Center in Yokkaichi, following surgery for a serious head injury. His parents had flown over to be at his bedside. His team, Marussia, asked for patience and understanding, as they, too, awaited news of his condition.
The mood of gloom and 'not knowing' were bitterly reminiscent of the hours and days that followed Michael Schumacher's skiing accident earlier this year.
Both reminded us of the fragility of existence and of the often dire consequences of head injuries. Schumacher's had seemed innocuous, yet swiftly became life-threatening; Bianchi's appeared immediately grave and proved, sadly, to be so.
The initial reaction within the sport was one of stoical professionalism, yet the atmosphere in the post-race Suzuka paddock had been experienced only by the more senior members present: shock, laced with sadness and a numb confusion.
Questions, then, were immediate: what, exactly, had happened to Bianchi? Should the race have been started earlier? Should it have been started at all? Should the red flag have been shown for Adrian Sutil's accident? Had light conditions become too low for the race to continue? They were typical of the desperate reaching for knowledge that occurs when intelligent beings are taken out of their comfort zone by circumstances beyond their control. We don't yet have answers and it will be some time before a clearer picture emerges.
As a magazine that takes its name from the sport, we hope Bianchi's accident does not bring calls for knee-jerk changes to F1. Yes, motor racing is dangerous and racing in low light at a soggy Suzuka is about as sketchy as F1 gets in its risk-reduced modern guise. But we've witnessed some massive accidents in recent seasons (Robert Kubica, Canada 2007; Serio Perez, Monaco 2011; Felipe Massa and Perez again in Canada this year) and, on each occasion, drivers have escaped with little more than stiffness and concussion. And we should rejoice in that, without for an instant being complacent about the welfare of our heroes. Why shouldn't they retire from the fray into a long and prosperous dotage, having entertained us royally in their pomp? Who wouldn't, now, love to be bumping into Gilles, Ronnie, Tom, Lorenzo and Jochen on a Sunday morning paddock stroll? But one day, we knew, the music would stop and it is Bianchi's grave misfortune to have suffered so cruelly when the racing gods took away their blessing for a split-second.
The muted podium celebrations we witnessed in Japan were not forced or fake. The common bond among racing drivers is that they alone know the true extent of the dangers they face. They alone get the 'dream job' high; but they alone put themselves in the line of fire. So when one of their number goes down, they know - it doesn't have to be spoken, it never is - that it could have been them. Those of us beyond the cockpit perhaps forget this. Those who race, never do.
#ForzaJules. With all our hearts we wish you Godspeed.