With many ready to criticise motorsport's governing body in the wake of Jules Bianchi's accident at Suzuka, Jenson Button insists that the FIA handled a difficult situation as well as could be expected.
The Briton came home fifth in the Japanese Grand Prix but, having learned of Bianchi's injuries, like many of his rivals, insisted that the result did not matter. Deflecting post-race questions about his own performance, and the circumstances surrounding the loss of a potential podium finish, Button instead focused on giving his version of the events that had attracted the most criticism.
Despite Typhoon Phanfone still threatening, the decision was taken – apparently at the promoters' behest – to run the race at its original slot. The start was taken behind the safety car but, with conditions unsuitable for even controlled laps, the red flag was thrown after just two laps, with the cars sitting in pit-lane until the rain eased.
When the action was restarted, it was again behind the safety car, which proceeded to lead the field around for another seven laps before it was unleashed. Remarkably, the only retirement in the first 40 laps came when Fernando Alonso's Ferrari ground to a halt behind the safety car, and it wasn't until Adrian Sutil crashed in the closing stages that questions began to be raised about the worsening conditions.
Unseen by the television cameras, however, Bianchi had followed the Sauber driver off at turn seven, but being a lap later found that the rescue operation on Sutil's car was already underway. Reports suggest that the Marussia struck the rear of the crane after skating across the wet grass….
The incident naturally provoked negative reaction, but Button insists that there was nothing amiss with the way the race was handled by the FIA and its representatives
“I think the FIA did a really good job of managing the situation,” the McLaren man claimed, “It's so difficult – they're listening to us the whole time and we want to go racing, but do it in a safe way.
“By the time the spray is not too much, you're almost on intermediate tyres already. It's that sort of thing around here - I think it must be the asphalt. It's the massive amount of spray that makes it dangerous, rather than the levels of grip. It was called at the right time too, and I think they did a very good job of controlling the situation. It's not easy on them either.”
Button maintains that conditions at both the start and end of the race were still within the tolerances he would expect for competition.
“When the race started, it was fine - I came straight in and put inters on,” he reasoned, “It's a fine line between having too much spray and not being able to see, and the tyres not being the right tyre. There's more spray, which means you can't see anything, than there is standing water that is going to affect the car through a corner or on the straight. I think it was safe conditions out there.
“When we sat on the grid, and they said the race was going to start at 3pm, it was a bit of a shock as I had never seen rain like it,” he revealed, “But it was [behind the] safety car for two laps and they did the right thing to call it, stop it, red flag it [after two laps]. Then we went back out behind the safety car…
“I think the FIA were in an unbelievably difficult position - they want to put a show on for the fans, but obviously our safety is very important. I think they called it well with the safety car coming back in.”
“We all go out there and give it our all. We put on a great show most of the time but, sometimes, it goes wrong. Big accidents happen and it is an accident. We've just got to hope that Jules is okay. Our thoughts are with him and his family right now...”
Asked about his own race, Button finally relented and admitted that a potential podium had been washed away during his second pit-stop….
“We screwed up with the steering wheel change,” he sighed, “We would have been in third place, but that really doesn't matter....”