Amazing escape for Perez in horror crash
If Formula One needed reminding why it has become so numbed to the dangers of racing over the past decade or two, then practice yesterday at the Hungaroring provided a timely example.
Accelerating towards 180mph out of a fast right-hander, Sergio Perez lost control running over the rumble strips, and speared into the barrier before his Force India flipped over, coming to rest with the Mexican upside down.
Amazingly, he crawled out and waved to the crowd. A check at the medical centre found the 25-year-old totally unharmed.
But not so his car. As a precaution, Force India withdrew both Perez (right) and his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg from afternoon practice after a suspension failure was revealed as the cause of the accident.
They plan to be back out running this morning, but less than a week on from Jules Bianchi's death, caution is in the air.
With Bianchi in everyone's minds - the 20 drivers are carrying tributes to the 25-year-old Frenchman on their helmets and car liveries - there was an anxious wait after the wreckage of Perez's car came to a halt.
A driver emerging unscathed is what the sport had become accustomed to witnessing.
In many respects, Bianchi's horrific accident, colliding with a recovery tractor at nearly 80mph, was a perfect storm.
The fading light and torrential rain came together with a racing driver doing what all racing drivers do - taking risks - by failing to slow down sufficiently under double yellow flags.
Despite a raft of changes to avoid a similar crash, the consensus has been that, if anything, Formula One has become too safe following the seismic improvements in the wake of Ayrton Senna's and Roland Ratzenberger's deaths in 1994.
Niki Lauda, the Mercedes F1 chairman and three-time world champion, did not propose that the sport become more life-threatening but simply "riskier".
Then Kimi Raikkonen claimed it should be "a little bit more dangerous" just days before Fernando Alonso's McLaren nearly breached his cockpit in an accident during the first lap of last month's Austrian Grand Prix.
The reality is that the sport has never been safer. But how can you eliminate the unexpected?
As Jenson Button, the most experienced driver on the grid, put it last night: "Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport and it's probably the safest formula in motorsport. But it is a dangerous sport and, I'm sorry to say it, it could happen again."
There has been a feeling for years that the drivers of today are mollycoddled, far removed from the gladiators of decades ago who shared deep bonds of camaraderie in part because they lost so many of their friends racing.
Lewis Hamilton, a self-confessed adrenalin-fuelled risk-taker, took umbrage at the notion Formula One is not dangerous.
"People watching underestimate the danger of our sport," the world champion said. "They think that it isn't really dangerous because nothing has happened and there has been no death for 20 years. All they have to do is sit there but we are driving this thing that is bloody fast and once we are in the wall it hurts.
"It is there in our minds, always. We are fully accepting and aware that we are getting in a car and there is danger. It is why we train the way we do, it is why we focus the way we do and that view is missed by people watching television. They don't appreciate it."
The loss of Bianchi has forced Hamilton's generation to confront death at the highest level of motorsport for the first time.
The drivers attended Bianchi's funeral in Nice en masse on Tuesday. "I think it was important for us drivers to be there as well and show that we are as one," Button added. "We might not be as friendly together as they were back in the 1970s, we're not best friends, but we look out for each other."
It is against this strange backdrop that tomorrow's Hungarian Grand Prix takes place.
Having won four of the eight races in which he has competed here, Hamilton is the clear favourite. Unlike Perez, practice went according to plan, topping both sessions from the start.
In this latest instalment of his exclusive rivalry with Nico Rosberg for the World Championship, Hamilton, who leads his team-mate by 17 points, has the upper hand.
Any hope that Sebastian Vettel might get in on the act - the theory is the Ferrari handles scorching temperatures better than Mercedes - appeared remote yesterday. © Daily Telegraph, London.
Hungarian GP Qualifying,
Live, BBC2/Setanta Irl, 6.35/9.55
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