Lessons for F1 in NASCAR’s horror crash

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Carl Edwards’ crash in the closing stages of last weekend’s NASCAR race at Talladega has sparked debate among racing fans:

Was this just a freak accident in a championship that engineers crashes for the entertainment of its fans – or are there lessons here for Formula 1 too?

Racing for the lead with the chequered flag in sight, Edwards was tipped into a spin by rival Brad Keselowski, then launched in a terrifying flip by the onrushing car of Ryan Newman. The only thing keeping the 99 car from landing in the crowd was a row of safety fencing, and despite that seven fans were injured by a shower of debris.

F1 and NASCAR are as different as two motor sports can be. So it’s tempting to conclude that F1 could never see something similar to Edwards’ crash: the cars don’t race so close to each other, and there is much more run-off between the track and the spectators.

Perhaps. But the welcome sight this year of cars being able to race each other more closely raises the possibility of such a crash happening in F1 – consider Robert Kubica and Jarno Trulli’s collision at Shanghai.

And Bernie Ecclestone is increasingly keen on adding street races to the calendar. Again, this is no bad thing, as it may allow spectators to get closer to the action – but that brings an obvious added danger.

Among NASCAR commentators reaction to the crash has centred on the wisdom of allowing drivers to ‘block’ (i.e. defend) their position. This has occasionally been a cause of concern in F1 as well, with driver being allowed to get away with some manoeuvres that seem exceptionally dangerous – Michael Schumacher’s infamous swerve at Mika Hakkinen at Spa in 2000 being an especially infamous example.

When the FIA is so preoccupied with improving safety by cutting cornering speeds and neutering circuits, it defies belief when drivers are allowed to go unpunished for such actions.

But in NASCAR’s case I don’t think driving standards is the real culprit. This crash again questions the wisdom of ‘restrictor plate racing’. These devices are mandated by NASCAR at larger ovals like Talladega and Daytona to limit speeds but also guarantee the racing pack remains close.

The Talladega race has spawned a cult following among fans eager to witness ‘The Big One’ – a huge multi-car collision that inevitably occurs, often involving dozens of cars. But this time it was fans that paid the price – and had Edwards’ car gone a metre or two one way or another the carnage might have been unimaginable.

Since Ayrton Senna’s death 15 years ago today, F1 has seized every opportunity to examine and improve its safety preparations. It’s important that includes observing how other motor sports handle major accidents like this, and how well their safety procedures coped.

Had NASCAR taken note of lessons learned by rival championships a decade ago, it might not have lost one of its most famous drivers, Dale Earnhardt, in a last-lap crash at Daytona 2001.

Perhaps the Edwards crash couldn’t happen in F1. But safety isn’t about leaving things to chance.

77 comments on “Lessons for F1 in NASCAR’s horror crash”

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  1. (Disclaimer: American, who doesn’t find NASCAR very interesting.)

    Of the 7 injuries, the worst was a woman whose jaw was broken. That is a lot worse than just some scrapes or bruises. I’m still appalled at the degree to which some people in the sport seem to think that a spectator injury like this is okay. NASCAR and Keselowski should absolutely be thanking their lucky stars that nobody was more badly hurt or killed. Carl Edwards said it like it is: they’ll just keep racing like this until someone gets killed, then the sport will suddenly go on another safety crusade.

    For one, it’s clear that spectators shouldn’t be sitting that close to the first & only layer of catch fencing. Also, the current NASCAR chassis (known as the COT–Car of Tomorrow) is aerodynamically quite weird and different from the old cars.
    In this case, the roof flaps (meant to slow down and keep a backwards-rolling car from flipping) looked like they caused a sideways-skidding car’s rear end to just…levitate. I’m not sure what could be done to prevent this–maybe flaps that only pop up when it would be safe to do so?

    Either way, every time I watch NASCAR, I feel like there’s only so much longer that they can ignore the last 40 years of automotive technology.

    1. Matt Fallon
      1st May 2009, 19:58

      Actually, to be fair, the roof flaps work, and would have put the car back to the ground had the onrushing car of Newman not smashed into Carl sending him back into the air.

  2. Shahriar Ahsan
    1st May 2009, 9:44

    It was clearly fault of Brad Keselowski…. 1.03min into the video clearly carl was pushed…
    was Brad penalized or something?

    1. As someone who DID watch the race I have to correct you on that one: it was Carl’s fault.

      This stemmed from the October race last year where a similar situation could have occured between Tony Stewart and Regan Smith where Tony moved up to block and Regan cut beneath – getting the front of his car alongside Tony just as Brad did above – Tony then tried to run him down beaneath the yellow line (not allowed by NASCAR on superspeedways).

      In October Regan moved down to avoid the accident, passed Stewart below the line and finished first – only to be disqualified later. Having learned from this Brad was left with two options last weekend – go below the line to avoid the accident when Carl moved down on him, or to stand his ground.

      The accident was Edwards fault for trying to block a car that was already partly alongside the rear of his car, but the ‘yellow line’ rule and the way it was harshly imposed last october didn’t help matters either.

    2. Actually, Carl Edwards has said that it was his fault – he tried to block Brad and misjudged exactly where the 09 car was.

    3. Keselowski went up and then down and had to hold his line. If he gose below the yellow line he is penalized for going below the yellow line. See the Talladagea race last year agaist Regan Smith and Tony Stewart. Edwards blocked high and then tired low and was not clear. There would have been no big fench crash if Newmans car had not hit Edwards but that is how it happned. It was the box NASCAR put them in and that was the result.

  3. scunnyman
    1st May 2009, 9:47

    This is one reason I don’t watch Nascar. It’s too set for the video game generation who want to see crashes galore.
    It’s not something i ever want to see happen in formula one. Though if you look at some of the rules coming or have been tried to bring in for f1 like medals and rotating rivers etc…. it may well happen that we get a video game style f1 in the future.

    As for the crash at talledega i wouldn’t say it was a freak accident, but big accidents do happen often over there.

    But if you want safety in any motorsport how far do you go?
    100 foot fences that don’t break and send debris into the crowd.
    Never let drivers get closer than fifty feet between them.
    Only let drivers race at 20 miles an hour.
    only have one long straight, a turn and them come back down the same straight.

    You can only go so far with safety in motorsport.

    I don’t want death in any type of motorsport. But what do you do?

    You will always get accidents like Patrese when he collided with(i think bergers rear wheel in 91′ 92′) and flew in the air. Or Barrichello during that fateful weekend fifteen years ago this week when he bounced off the curbs at imola and only just caught the top of the fencing around the circuit. Or even the crash that alex zanardi had in germany where his indycar was sliced in 2.

    You cannot safeguard against all accidents, and if you try then you water down the spectacle of the sport we all love.

    To take a case in point seeing as it’s 15 yrs to the date that senna died. Mosley brought in a draft of changes to the regulations after the domination of williams in 92′ and 93. With safety cars coming, which was new to most drivers to handle. Senna’s car was forced to drive too low to the ground which in effect meant he lost downforce at a crucial moment. If it were not for a freak element in his right hand front wheel getting jammed between the wall and his car and smashing him fatally on the head then he may have just hit the wall(as did berger some years earlier) and probably walked away from the crash.

    I’m all for safety, but let’s not get carried away. Motorsport is DANGEROUS and the drivers know it.

    I also think that the safety measures brought in after senna’s death have both helped and hindered our beloved F1 in my opinion. And i don not feel we will ever be able to get back to the real racing we used to have pre 1994.
    The tracks are watered down too much, old and new and the cars are restricted too much.

    anyway i’ve ranted long enough. sorry Keith.

    1. As a NASCAR fan most of us dont want to see drivers crash or die.

    2. Fully agreed.

      And to add to your opinion, I think that nowadays, Formula One is using the economic problem, in a bid to increase more safety. They are restricting too much power from the cars. From V10 and bigger engine capacity, we have moved to V8’s and smaller capacity engines… RPM are going down like dominos… And I’m starting to doubt that the new aerodynamic rules had the benefit of increasing overtaking as their prime target, but actually, to slow down the cars more. F1 cars can and have proved they can withstand huge crashes. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to go fast?

  4. Nascar needs to take a leaf out of F1s book, run off areas, better fences, weight restrictions and safer pit lanes. It proves it with the ‘bit of rain and it’s stopped’ scenario, DANGEROUS.

    1. I’d say the fences look pretty good judging by that video.

    2. shellback
      4th May 2009, 7:02

      The stands for Daytona will then be in Kansas

  5. I dont think theres any reason the compare this to F1 tbh. NASCAR is all about seeing who crashes… F1 isnt and the cars are also much lighter.

  6. Adjustable rear wings bother me – break a front wing and it’s usually a low-speed accident – but take a moment to remember Ratzenberger, 15 years on –
    If the rear one fails, the driver loses control. More potential there for high-speed spins and wheel-over-wheel accidents.

    Any spectator injuries are unacceptable, so I hope FIA keep revisiting spectator protection – at the new temporary circuits, and at established or upgraded tracks like Monza, Spa or Donington.

  7. What if the car went 6 feet higher?! People would have been killed! Look how high the car is when it impacts the fence…

    F1 safety standards are much higher in my opinion.

  8. The IndyCars are racing on many street circuits during the season and I don’t remember if there has ever been an accident involving injuires among the crowd. And I’ve watched Indycars/ChampCars for 15 years now.

    Monaco is as tight a street circuit as you can get and nothing ever happens, so I really can’t see what the fuss (as regards F1) is all about.

    1. And actually, Monaco isn’t safe enough by F1’s modern standards… But due to the safety of the cars, especially since the turn of the millennium, no fatal or big crashes that left drivers severely injured occurred there, most of which, are thanks to the HANS safety device.

    2. Well, if you go back to the IRL/Champ Car days, I believe several fans were killed at Michigan during the U.S. 500 race in the mid-90’s.

  9. Motorsport is dangerous. It’s printer on your ticket when you attend any motorsport event.

    NASCAR is about close racing. Contact will happen.
    Restrictor plates came in to stop higher speed crashes, but now there seem to be more crashes, although at slower speeds.
    Is it now safer for the drivers in NASCAR? Yes. Carl Edwards got out of his car and ran across the finish line to finish the race.
    Is it safer for the spectators? Not sure. Too many cars close together will cause accidents. I haven’t seen enough NASCAR races with restrictor plates to see how many have been a threat to the spectators prior to this.

    Does this effect F1? Not really.
    F1 has had it’s share of debris related incidents. Tethering wheels to the chassis was a result of flying wheels in accidents. I can’t remember the last time flying debris at a street circuit caused a spectator \ marshall any harm?
    At a non-street circuit it’s just as dangerous, in fact even more so if the speeds are increased.

    Nobody wants to see any injuries or deaths.
    F1 has the luxury of increasing run-off areas or introducing chicanes. NASCAR does not. Unfortunately, it will take another similar incident with some serious injuries of deaths for NASCAR to change. It could mean moving the crowds further away from the catch fences. The safest place is for them to be elevated above the action, but this lose the appeal for those that love to see the action close up.

  10. It is worth remembering that the last deaths in Formula One have been that of trackside marshals.

    A first lap accident at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix at Monza where a wheel killed a marshal. And a crash in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne between Jacque Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher, when a wheel went through a small gap in the fence.

    I believe that this was why the wheel tethers were introduced to try to stop the wheels flying off after a crash.

    1. hitchcockm00
      1st May 2009, 12:38

      Yeah that’s what I was going to say. The thing F1 needs to worry about is flying debris rather than flying cars.
      And they need to pay more attention to the wheel tethers because there have been a few wheels coming off the cars in crashes this year. Kubica’s crash in Australia and Sutil’s in China both ended up with wheels bouncing around on the track.

  11. Surely this is a very similar crash to Jacques Villeneuve in Australia in 2001 where Jacques’ car flipped up into the fence and killed a marshal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjvSTidOyPI). And at the 1996 Toronto Indy race Jeff Krosnoff and a marshal were both killed when Krosnoff hit Stefan Johansson’s wheel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kODJoZwik_E).

    So yeah, there’s probably plenty to learn whenever it happens in any racing series. I know they made changes to the Melbourne track/fencing afterwards.

  12. You can’t compare open and closed wheel racing.

    From NASCAR down to the BTCC bumps and pushes happen all the time, because the for the following car there is little chance of a crash or failure.

    Compare that to open wheel racing where deliberating bumping another car usually results in a serious accident or terminal damage for both.

    Ironic that on the 15th anniversary of Senna’s death we are discussing one driver deliberatly crashing into another.

  13. Michael Schumacher’s infamous swerve at Mika Hakkinen at Spa in 2000

    Your having a laugh aren’t ya Keith! That was no way near as dangerous as Hill in Canada ’98 no where near it. Infamous! Naaahh


    Villeneuve & Schumacher ’01 (worth the watch just to hear Murray)


    1. I picked the first example that came to mind.

    2. good point K…
      the otherwise impartial and objective Keith sometimes just can’t resist having a go at michael …
      eh, keith ; )

    3. hehe You have to say though in Spa Schumacher bent the rule where as in Canada Hill just blatantly broke it, was Hill punished for that? I can’t remember. Michael was punished for giving Frentzen the “strong arm” lol Ahhh the “good old days” when a driver was punished with a simple stop’n’go during the actual race where the offense occurred. Canada hey remember that place, what was it called… surrounded by water I recall… They used to have some good races there…

  14. It appears that this is a case of air travelling the wrong way through the diffuser, causing a much higher pressure under the car resulting in lift.

    This particular accident would be hard to replicate in F1 for a couple of reason, F1 cars have a very low center of gravity and much less undercar downforce reliance thanks to the ‘stepped’ floor.

    I suspect nascar relies more on increased ground effect to compensate for a lack of above CoG downforce (mainly from lack of aerodynamic wings).

    Le Mans cars have also suffered from this.

    F1 crashes in which cars have taking to the air are often the direct result of a collision rather than aero instability.

    The fences sure did a good job in this case though.

  15. If you watch the video, you’ll easily notice that thhe car was already coming back down to the ground when it “landed” on the hood (bonnet) of Newman’s car and was then catapulted into the air again. So the flaps on top of the car were doing what they were supposed to, which is to try and keep the car on the ground.

    Another thing to consider is the configuration of the racetrack. They were coming up to the finish line which is at the center of a leftward bend, not a straight. The cars only make that bend at those speeds because of a bit of downforce and a lot of tire grip. Once the car is in the air and grip is no longer a factor, the car will start to go in a straight line… straight at the spectators.

    Racing is inheridently a dangerous sports and that needs to be accepted by all, drivers, fans, promoters, media, etc. Accidents like will happen and people will get hurt from time to time. It does not mean that the governing bodies should just give up on safety. It’s just that something will always happen no matter what you try to do.

    F1 should learn from Indy which has a traveling safety team that goes to all the races. Same people at every race attending to the drivers. I’ve been watching Indycars for a while now and they are ALWAYS on “scene” within seconds of the accident. I feel F1 sorely lags Indycar in this area.

    1. Well, I believe F1 has the same doctor (employed by the FIA, if I am correct) that supervises medical care and facilities at each event. However, I believe all the marshals are locals.

  16. I think that if Carl hit that fence direct, the Car would’ve rolled right over it. 3600 lbs x 170+ mph, that fence is not strong enough. Carl is right, Somebody will die eventually.

  17. No one is at fault. If Keslowski when down any further he would have made a pass below the yellow line ruining his chances for a win. Carl also came down on Brad. Carls spotter even said “car low”. They both were fighting for the win and due to the rules this happened.

    Nascar then says it will revert the rules. HELLO! The rules are the thing that caused this. You put the plates on the cars that make run inches apart, and you make the yellow line in which you cannot complete a pass underneath.

    For these tracks the front row in the grandstand neeeds to be moved back in that tri-oval area, the cars need a smaller restrictorplate, and the fencing needs to be taller and at a more inclined angle. The cars need to have more than just roof flaps to keep them on the grond. Airways in the back bumper, back bumper flaps, a revised rear wing that works in reverse as well. These are all things that will work, while maitaining a good show.

  18. They should learn from this, just like F1 has done very well over the past 15 years.
    It’s already been 15 years since that horrible weekend, incredible.
    But F1/FIA has done a brilliant job concerning safety.
    As long as they don’t try the SPA chicane thingies again :)

  19. USF1fanatic
    1st May 2009, 17:42

    Great comments gentlemen! Dare I say better than the article that sparked this conversation.
    If F1 and the FIA are truly interested in making the sport safer as well as more exciting, they will ask people like you. The conversation here is exactly what every motor sport needs; productive, courteous, and provocative. That is what I like the most about this site.

  20. Did anyone notice how many different camera angles there were – and how quickly they were all televised? Three different fixed cameras and three different on board cameras were queued up very quickly. Why can’t F1 coverage get a decent camera system? They can put lights over a whole track but can’t get footage of all the racing?

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