The FIA has said it is launching an in-depth review into why a recovery vehicle was on track before all cars had passed the location of Sainz’s beached Ferrari – causing a near miss for AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly due to extremely low visibility.
Rain was bucketing down at the Japanese Grand Prix when Sainz spun his SF-75 into the barrier and out of the race, summoning a red flag.
The Spanish driver crashed on the opening lap and dramatic video footage has since shown Gasly passing a mere 2 metres from the tractor at high speed – which had been dispatched to recover the Ferrari.
In the aftermath of reviewing the footage, several F1 drivers voiced their fury over the incident, and Sergio Perez even said it marked “the lowest point we’ve seen in the sport for years.”
Sebastian Vettel also made his thoughts known and said officials were “lucky” that nobody was killed or seriously injured.
Following feedback from many of the drivers, the FIA has reportedly launched a thorough investigation to “ensure continual improvements of processes and procedures”.
One of the reasons drivers were particularly enraged by the incident was because it was a very similar event that saw Jules Bianchi killed at the same track back in 2014.
Speaking after the race, a visibly emotional Gasly told Sky Sports that the moment had left him fearing what could have been: “I’m just extremely grateful that I’m here and tonight I’m going to call my family and all my loved ones and the outcome is what it is,” said the Alpha Tauri driver.
“I passed two metres from that crane, and if I was two metres to the left I would have been dead.”
The Grand Prix was red-flagged for more than two hours as race directors waited out the heavy downpours, but once things got going, Max Verstappen won the shortened race to claim his second world drivers’ championship.
Despite the triumph for Red Bull, Verstappen’s teammate, Perez made his thoughts clear, saying: “That’s the lowest point we’ve seen in the sport for years.”
“What happened today just makes me so angry. I just hope in the sport we never get to see this situation ever again.”
He added: “We saw what happened here a few years ago with our friend Jules and absolutely I don’t care about what was the reason for that. It should never happen again, ever in any category.”
McLaren driver Lando Norris told reporters that there can be no compromises around driver safety. He said: “I think it’s quite clear that it can’t ever happen in Formula 1 ever again. Especially when at this circuit, however, many years ago, we lost a life.
“It’s a bit crazy. I really don’t understand how it’s happened. I don’t know who okayed it and who allowed it to happen. We risk enough by trying to go out there and put on a show.
“You couldn’t see anything, I literally mean nothing, and we’re taking enough risks in those conditions, so when you have something like this it’s just mind-blowing to me how someone can choose to do that, and they don’t know the consequences obviously that it can have on us.
“I don’t think many conversations need to be had, especially from us drivers. I think we’ve made it clear it should be pretty simple on how to fix it, and that’s for it to never happen again.”
To add insult to injury, the FIA later said Gasly was at fault for driving too fast in the conditions, and the Frenchman was hit with penalties after the race.
He finished 17th overall so his penalties demoted him to 18th, with two penalty points taking his 12-month tally to nine out of a permitted 12.
“After passing the scene of the incident, Car 10 continued under the red flag situation, at speeds which exceeded 200 km/h on multiple occasions, and which reached 251 km/h at one point,” read the stewards’ statement.
“The driver conceded that he now understood that there could have been marshals or obstacles on the track and admitted that he was too fast.
“However, in mitigation of penalty, we take into account that although the speed could not be any measure be regarded as ‘slow’ as required in the regulations it was slower than the maximum speed that could be achieved in these conditions.
“We also take into account the shock the driver experienced on seeing a truck on the racing line in the corner of the incident.”