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Safety in Motorsport - The First Priority

I'm sitting in Moscow airport, getting ready to jet off to another GP3 race. However, this trip feels slightly different. The whole motorsport community, including myself, is dealing with the aftermath and emotion of the Jules Bianchi crash.

I'm sitting in Moscow airport, getting ready to jet off to another GP3 race. However, this trip feels slightly different. The whole motorsport community, including myself, is dealing with the aftermath and emotion of the Jules Bianchi crash.

I didn't know Jules, but I had a lot of respect for him as a Formula One driver. I thought he was extremely talented and of course really hope he pulls through. From what I've heard about him, he's a tough cookie and I'm rooting for him.

Although the crash - that has made headlines all over the world during the past week - was a difficult thing to see and hear about, it doesn't change my mindset about racing.

I told myself as soon as it happened that motorsport is dangerous and freak accidents do occur, which I think Jules' one was. As far as keeping us drivers safe is concerned, I think the FIA (governing body of motorsport) has done a terrific job over the last two decades. There's always an element of danger, but if I constantly thought about it, I wouldn't be out there in the first place.

In motorsport, safety is the first priority, but I think there's a good balance between letting us 'battle' and being safe. I never feel 'unsafe'. I feel as safe as I can doing 165mph+ and I know that the FIA are always pushing hard to keep us even safer.

Over the years, the FIA and the individual governing bodies in each country (MSA for the UK and CAMS in Australia, for example) have made huge leaps in safety technology.

For instance, we now wear a HANS device. You'll see drivers wearing it attached to their helmet, with the seatbelts over the top of it, so when we have a big impact, there's only a small amount of whiplash and it keeps our necks from travelling too far.

Also, at every Grand Prix, a driver from F1, GP2 and GP3 is nominated to do an extrication practice. This is for the local marshals and doctors to follow the correct and safe procedure for taking us out of the car in case we can't get out ourselves. As annoying as it is when you get nominated to practice, I'm thankful the practice is in place.

Another safety innovation is that we now all wear carbon fibre helmets. They are designed to take more impact and stay much more intact than they were doing so years ago. Our head and neck are our most valuable parts, so I'm glad that the motorsport governing bodies put so much effort into improving this area, as well as so many other things.

When you compare the safety in motorsport with other sports, I think it's very simple. I would say motorsport is probably still a lot more dangerous than football, rugby, boxing and so on. You're much more likely to tear a hamstring, or break a bone in these sports and I'm thankful that doesn't happen very often at all in motorsport anymore. However, when you hit a wall or another car at 200mph, it's huge. Then you are at risk of life-threatening injuries, as your head and neck are exposed - as distressing as that is for me to think about. We all know what we signed up for though.

In July, I raced in my first GP3 weekend at Silverstone. Well, attempted to anyway, as on my first lap in qualifying I had the biggest crash of my career. It was pouring with rain, I couldn't see the front of my own car, let alone anything else and I was doing 150mph. Suddenly, I saw a car in front doing about 20! It was too late to react so I hit him flat out. My car did three backflips before landing upside down.

Not only that, but as I landed, the roll hoop - the structure above our head designed to keep our head and neck from taking impact - broke. I then did 200m upside down on my head.

I remember every single second of it. Strangely, when I was upside down on my head, I was very relaxed. I told myself I was going to be fine. My hand fell out of the car upside down and got a bit torn up and I needed about 10 stitches, but other than that I was completely fine. I was more worried about my mum's reaction, watching!

But to be honest, it didn't stop me from wanting to drive even a little bit. If anything, it felt like racing was my calling because I'm still here.

Racing is addictive. When you start racing at a young age, you don't really know what's going on and it's a bit of harmless fun. But the older you get, the more it draws you in and you can't get enough.

Even when stuff like this happens, you are thinking about the next race. To me, driving a racing car on the limit is the purest feeling in the world - I really can't imagine a life without it.

However, what happened to Jules is ever so sad. I feel for him and his family. I can only imagine it's the most awful thing to go through for everyone who knows him and I'm glad to see the whole motorsport community getting behind him and sending him positive energy.

At the end of the day, we do it for the pure enjoyment of driving; the rush you get from being on the limit. We keep the thoughts of crashing to a minimum. I respect my competitors and the rules and hope to get the same in return and therefore keep risk to a minimum also.

But despite the horrible news, I'm going to be all out attack this weekend, as I would any other, as I'm sure will every other driver who has chosen this life. And when it's over, I'll be checking the news to see how he's doing again.

Forza Jules.

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