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A day F1 fans would love to forget…but shouldn’t

by on October 6, 2014

A day F1 fans would love to forget…but shouldn’t


It’s been over 20 years already since that tragic Grand Prix weekend in Imola when Formula One lost both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. It could have been three had Rubens Barrichello not survived his sensational crash at full flight.  It was a huge loss to the sport and a massive wake-up call to everyone, which prompted a massive emphasis to be placed on the sport’s safety. It must be said that Formula One has become extremely safe.  The FIA and Formula One as a whole have done an outstanding job thankfully with respect to Motorsport safety.

Since then, we’ve had some close calls which instigated discussions but which did not result in any significant steps being taken.  In 2009 in Hungary, a suspension spring from Barichello’s car came off during qualifying and struck fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa’s helmet.  Somehow and thankfully, Massa survived.  The idea of enclosed cockpits was tossed about but nothing was done as a consequence.  Perhaps it is because Massa recovered and the incident was a very uncommon occurrence.

Let’s fast forward to 2012 when Maria DeVillota suffered a massive head injury at Duxford Aerodrome during an F1 test for Marussia. She eventually recovered, albeit with the loss of an eye, sense of smell and taste.  In October of 2013 (one year after making her first public post recovery appearance), she suffered full cardiac arrest which is believed to have been caused by the detachment of brain mass from her shunt.  It was yet another reminder of the sport’s danger and perhaps another missed opportunity to address a safety concern.

At the Belgian Grand Prix in 2012, the vision of Romain Grosjean careening across the front of Fernando Alonso’s car upside still haunts me.  The racing incident happened in a split second and could have nearly cost Alonso his life, for but a few inches.  The closed cockpit chatter resumed again.  Clearly there is a concern about driver safety in Formula One due to the open cockpit but closing may not necessarily be the answer.

Jules Bianchi’s serious crash in Japan this weekend reopens the discussion of safety.  It wasn’t impossible to predict that it could have happened.  Where one car crashes, another may follow, especially in rainy conditions where aquaplaning turns F1 pilots into mere passengers in a blink. The race could have been run sooner in drier conditions, some suggested.  Others questioned why the race was being run at all on Sunday with the risk of the Typhoon ever present.  Bianchi’s head injury could not only be career ending, but life threatening as well.

I don’t always agree with Niki Lauda, in fact twice in the paddock, I’ve been slightly intimidated by him and phrased my sentences and questions carefully. Niki has a certain bluntness about him but he does make sense most of the time (whether we admit it or not).  Today he was quoted as saying, “Motor racing is dangerous…We get used to it if nothing happens and then suddenly we’re all surprised.” It doesn’t take much reflection to agree with that statement.

Often, something tragic must happen before some sort of action is taken. Certainly, we can all relate as it is normally the same situation in our home lives or in the office. Someone has to fall down a set of stairs before a handrail is installed, for instance. Both the FIA and Formula One are very proactive, and in some cases, also reactive. It’s a fine line which is difficult to balance.  Not all situations can be predicted or protected against, but perhaps today’s incident may spawn more cautious decisions in the future when racing in inclement conditions.

As we wait for a whisper of confirmed positive, news from Mie General Hospital in Suzuka Japan and/or the FIA, we are notified of the death of former F1 driver Andrea DeCesaris.  As you may have read by now, DeCesaris was killed almost instantly just outside of Rome in a motorcycle crash. The Italian raced for 14 years from 1980 with a number of teams including some big names such as Alfa Romeo, McLaren, Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Jordan , Sauber and Tyrrell. Although unrelated to F1, this tragic death should serve as a reminder that we are all at risk of death or injury, be it on a roadway or race circuit.  Let us remember this day, be cautious and alert. 

Please be safe out there.

From → Formula One

One Comment
  1. It is too easy to get things out of perspective.
    We accept with little comment about 8 deaths every day on the roads of Great Britain and a terrible percentage of deaths and injuries to motor cycle riders and yet we spend millions if there are any deaths as a result of train accidents.
    Do not let this one most unfortunate accident elicit a disproportionate response.

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