F1’s safe decade: Ten years since last F1 fatality

History

2001 Australian Grand Prix

2001 Australian Grand Prix

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the last fatality during a Formula 1 event.

Graham Beveridge, a marshal working at the Australian Grand Prix, died when he was struck by a wheel following a crash during the race.

That F1 has gone so long without another death is a tribute to the efforts of the FIA and competitors to improve safety standards.

Cars have been made stronger and have to withstand tougher tests. Helmets can withstand huge forces. And tracks have been made safer with larger run-off areas and better barriers.

Protection for marshals has improved as well, in reaction to the deaths of Beveridge and Paolo Ghislimberti, who lost his life during the Italian Grand Prix six months earlier.

The ever-improving safety standards have been tested to some astonishing extremes. Robert Kubica’s crash at Montreal in 2007 and Felipe Massa’s at the Hungaroring in 2009 would not have been survivable in earlier seasons.

While at times we may feel that the pursuit of safety has sapped some of the spectacle from the sport, preventing needless endangerment of life clearly has to take priority.

The challenge for those involved in running Formula 1 is to make it demanding for competitors, yet as safe as is realistically possible, in a sport where humans drive machines that cover almost 100 metres per second.

The FIA has done excellent work in its pursuit of greater safety and this year sees a range of further improvements to the car including extra wheel tethers and stronger survival cells.

Other disciplines have not been spared tragedy. Days before Massa’s crash in 2009 John Surtees lost his son Henry in a Formula Two crash.

Motor racing is dangerous and despite best efforts that danger can never be removed entirely. The pursuit of still higher safety standards goes on.

It is a reflection of the level of safety in Formula 1 that people now question whether it’s appropriate for F1 drivers to compete in other forms of motor racing at much lower speeds.

The appalling injuries suffered by Kubica during a rally last month – in the kind of accident F1 hasn’t seen since the 1970s – are a reminder that the commitment to safety demanded in F1 must be reflected throughout the world of motor sport.

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77 comments on F1’s safe decade: Ten years since last F1 fatality

  1. newnhamlea1 said on 4th March 2011, 0:24

    Although it may sound callous to say this; ‘preventing needless endangerment of life clearly has to take priority.’ i disagree with this point. It should be 100% safe for spectators and marshalls and the teams. But the drivers, they know what they are getting into and I think that while safety has to be taken seriously, it shouldnt be to the point were the sport is worse off for it. Motorsport should be dangerous, not ridiculously so, but there should be that element of danger.

    • Mark Hitchcock (@mark-hitchcock) said on 4th March 2011, 0:30

      No-one should risk death for our entertainment.
      Prioritizing driver safety doesn’t mean ignoring spectacle or excitement.
      Personally I sometimes get less enjoyment out of watching some of the past seasons where death was an accepted consequence of motor-racing because while some of the racing was more exciting, that excitement is quickly extinguished when someone crashes and dies.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 4th March 2011, 2:50

        they never risked their lives for “our” entertainment anyway.

        They did it because they loved it. They cared about the risks, but they understood motorsports are risky bussiness.

        Sure, you want the risk to be as low as possible, but it’d not be motorsports if there wasn’t a tiny bit of risk.

        newnhamlea1 isn’t 100% wrong if you think about it. Everything we watch and/or enjoy has some level of risk involved. If there wasn’t any dangerous situation, it’d not satisfy us.

        • Carsvschildren said on 4th March 2011, 3:13

          So you would be ok with me coming to your workplace and removing your hs&e measures because it made it a bit more exciting?

          No more electrical safety switches, cos it’s more exciting not knowing if you are going to get electocuted when you plug in your computer monitor or power drill right?

          F1 is a multiple billion dollar business. It has a duty to protect it’s employees first and foremost. Entertainment comes second.

          • MJ4 said on 4th March 2011, 11:41

            F1 is a multiple billion dollar entertainment business. So entertainment cannot come second.

            Without entertainment for spectators, what would it be? A sport more lavish than any other for no particular reason? A needlessly expensive R&D branch for car manufacturers?

            Your workplace is not about entertainment to any degree. It’s a false analogy.

          • Dobin1000 (@dobin1000) said on 4th March 2011, 13:57

            Formula One is a sport. Sport exists in and of itself to be a competition, not for spectators. Yes, it probably couldn’t survive now without them but spectators are secondary to the sport, and this includes safety. Just becuase you think of it as entertainment, doesn’t mean it exists to entertain you at the expense of other considerations.

          • Rooney said on 4th March 2011, 18:43

            There is safety, and Overly safety.
            The electrical safety switches and helmets are about being safe. But what’s happening in F1 these days is ridiculous. It can be compared to being wrapped in bubble wrap and then put in a undestroyable chamber. Sure is increases safety.. But you wont be as productive anymore. F1?.. Same situation. There should be a balance between safety and racing!

      • Fixy (@fixy) said on 4th March 2011, 13:31

        Everything is dangerous. People die in bobsleigh. I imagine motorsports should be more dangerous than bobsleigh.

    • CarsVsChildren (@carsvschildren) said on 4th March 2011, 0:46

      newnhamlea1 thought process “Yeah, Sunday = Death and Destruction”

      Why on earth should people put themselves at unnecessary risk for our entertainment?

      Were you alive when Senna and Ratzenburger died? Do you remember watching the news and finding out the injuries were fatal?

      Were you one of the people frantically clicking refresh after Massa’s accident hoping to find out if he was ok?

      I dont want to see people die for my entertainment, I want to see good close racing, with as little risk as humanly possible.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 4th March 2011, 2:56

        don’t look at his comment that way. Try to analyse it.

        He never said: “I wnnt to see blood every sunday”.

        • Carsvschildren said on 4th March 2011, 3:21

          Actually he may as well have. He said the sport of f1 (the one that exists as an entertainment medium) is more important than the safety of f1 drivers (he specifically singled them out, instead giving priorities to spectators, Marshalls and team members)

          I’m not advocating tilkiesque levels of boredom in track design, nor turning f1 Cars into neutered shopping trolleys simply making the point that the first consideration in any f1 or motorsport related descision should be the safety of ALL involved.

          • MagillaGorilla said on 5th March 2011, 1:03

            No one is arguing safety, when you race no matter how safe the enviornment you run the risk minor, major injuries or even death. Look at Kubica and the rally he ran, the car is fully of safety features but he was still hurt. They know the risk but do it because they love the sport, and in the end we are allowed to watch and be entertained. If you think that racing can be 100% safe well show me, but racing is the idea of the driver and team conquering machine to win. However, the machine is unpredictable and one never knows what will go wrong, but there is a danger factor to what can go wrong.

      • Leon said on 4th March 2011, 9:19

        If you removed all the physical risk of motor racing from the sport, no-one would watch it. The whole point of F1 is that it is fast and dangerous.

        Whether it’s wild water rafting, base jumping, extreme caving, or F1, young adventurous people seek out danger simply because of the buzz they get from great risk. No health and safety culture will ever change that dimension to the humnan psyche.

        And when bureaucrats finally wrap everything in cotton wool the human species will be finished.

        Discuss.

        • Gusto said on 4th March 2011, 11:26

          Reading your post brought to mind Danger Compensation Theory which states that the safer something looks the more risk you take, it seems we just have an urge to feel in dangerous situations, when they do wrap us up in cotton wool there will be the craze of playing with matches. If memory serves me the Beverage accident was caused when the wheel went through the safety fence access hole, when mesurements were made the hole in the fence was barely an inch bigger than the wheel.

        • Dobin1000 (@dobin1000) said on 4th March 2011, 14:05

          I disagree – when I started watching F1 I was too young to appreciate the danger. The racing was what made me watch.

    • Michael Griffin said on 4th March 2011, 1:24

      That was one appalling comment there newnhamlea1.

      • Mike-e said on 4th March 2011, 2:01

        to a degree i agree with him. Taking the fear out of motorsport means no longet does the guy with the biggest balls win. You dont go into a corner knowing you could die, the fear of this making you hold back, where another would go kamakazi, no fear, into the corner and gain half a second.

        It has removed an element of racing, the passion, dedication and commitment of the driver are no longer AS importaint. Look at kimi for example, really fast, but committed? no. would he have risked everything to be that fast, no, i dont think he had it in him (you can talk about his rallying, but he’s holding back somewhat in that too ‘in my opinion’).

        Slate my comment if you must, thats fine, i’m not saying this to win fans, just to point out there are also cons to the pro of safety. But i remember back in the early 90’s when having giant balls like senna and mansell, meant something.

    • alfaman said on 4th March 2011, 4:36

      With all due respect, not only is this comment callous it’s asinine. No matter what F1 is going to be a dangerous sport. All measures should be taken to make is safer for the drivers. No one wants to see another Senna or Greg Moore(ok, that was CART) incident.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th March 2011, 6:43

      I could agree with you only if that quote didn’t have the important part of all in it:

      preventing needless endangerment of life clearly has to take priority

      Needless danger is to be avoided at all times. Keith never states, that it should not be dangerous at all, in fact he states that it will always be dangerous to a degree.
      But from the rest of your comment, I take it, that was probably wat you meant to say as well.

      • OEL said on 4th March 2011, 8:39

        Why do you want it to be dangerous? Seriously?

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th March 2011, 8:46

          Would it provide the exitement and adrenaline if there were no danger whatsoever?
          Then why do people do bungee jumping, parachute jumps, acrobatic flying and yes RACING?

          They are and always will be dangerous. As sports the competitors and governing body has to take care, that the risks are limited to not have any needless danger.

    • Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 4th March 2011, 9:39

      I don’t think that drivers should be put at more risk just so us spectators can enjoy our Sunday afternoon television a bit more

      However, I do agree that the safety of marshals and fans is even more important. Drivers know the risks involved in driving a big chunk of carbon fibre around at 200mph, but marshals and spectators shouldn’t need to feel at risk

    • newnhamlea1 said on 4th March 2011, 9:41

      Look, all danger is needless, you dont NEED to go motor racing, you dont NEED to go for that bike ride, you dont really NEED to leave your house. But you do it anyway. Of course I don’t want to see people getting killed every week and of course I was worried after Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica got injured. But, motorsport should be dangerous, I dont like seeing people hurt, but that should be why I admire them, for doing something only a few people have the balls to do. I may have a opinion that is shared by the minorities, but so be it. I personally find it horrific that there are rev limits on engines, “to control speed” they should go, they do nothing for the sport. And likewise I hate the way that everything was reeled back in terms of speed after the 2004 season. Those are two examples of the sport damaging itself in the name of safety, and I dont like them.

    • TimG (@timg) said on 4th March 2011, 9:59

      The key word here is “needless”. Motor racing will never be 100% safe but there is a big difference between inherent risk and needless endangerment of life.

      For example, Roger Williamson’s death at Zandvoort in 1973. One of the front tyres on Williamson’s March failed and flung him into the barriers. The barriers hadn’t been properly secured and acted as a launching ramp. The car landed upside down and burst into flames. The marshalls didn’t have proper firefighting equipment and Williamson, trapped in the car, died from smoke inhalation, not from the minor injuries sustained in the crash.

      If the barriers had been secured properly or the marshalls had better equipment the outcome might have been very different. Williamson’s death was therefore needless, i.e. it wouldn’t have happened had basic precautions been put in place, neither of which would have interferred with the racing.

      The same goes for Elio de Angelis’ death in 1986 – killed after being trapped in a burning Brabham after a testing crash he should have survived. Had it happened on a race weekend there would have been fire marshalls on hand, but it was only testing so they didn’t. Patrick Depailler was also killed at a test session after his Alfa Romeo’s suspension failed and pitched him into a barrier that should have been protected by catch fencing. The catch fencing was neatly rolled up behind the barriers, ready to be installed. Again, both needless and entirely preventable without hampering the on-track action.

      Francois Cevert and Helmuth Konnig both died horribly at Watkins Glen because barriers hadn’t been properly secured.

      Tom Pryce died in 1977 when a marshall ran out in front of him, trying to get across the main straight at Kyalami to deal with a car on fire. Utterly needless.

      When Jackie Stewart crashed his BRM at Spa he was trapped in the cockpit with fuel leaking. He was eventually freed by a fellow driver and a spectator who happened to have a tool kit in his car. When he was eventually put in a ambulance it got lost on the way to the hospital. Niki Lauda was also lucky enough to be extracted from his car by fellow drivers after the Nurburgring crash in 1976. Both were obviously lucky, but the failure to have proper marshalling and firefighting equipment on hand both times were clearly needless risks. David Purley tried desperately to free Roger Williamson from his burning car, but tragically failed.

      Racing drivers who are regularly on the outer limits of control will inevitably go over that limit from time to time. There will always be a risk of unforeseeable freak accidents causing death or serious injury – see Henry Surtees.

      The only way to avoid that completely is to remove the human element (i.e. drivers, spectators, marshalls, etc) from the sport entirely. Nobody seriously wants that, but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop looking for ways to identify and remove pointless risk, which has accounted for many deaths, from our sport.

      • Burnout said on 4th March 2011, 11:52

        Hear hear. That should be the proper attitude towards safety in motor racing. You can’t prevent crashes, but the people involved should be given the best chance of coming out unscathed.

        I think the greatest aspect about a modern F1 circuit is that the racing takes place without putting spectators or marshals under undue risk. The fact that it’s virtually impossible for Pierre Levegh’s accident to occur on a modern circuit is pretty amazing. It’s even more amazing when you look at how much shorter the lap times are today.

      • jake said on 4th March 2011, 12:21

        has to be comment of the day

    • Andy C said on 4th March 2011, 10:57

      I think you’re thinking of gladiators?

      I don’t think sport should be risk to the point of putting peoples lives at risk.

      How many drivers would have been saved in Jackie Stewarts era (and before/after) had they actually had barriers and run off areas on the track, and the safety facilities they have nowadays.

      The whole attitude in those days was if you don’t like danger, don’t be a racing driver. Jackie Stewart was ostracised and called a wimp for campaigning for safety.

      In my view, motorsport should take whatever steps it feels necessary to stop needless waste of lives.

      And thankfully that has been achieved, and not at the expense of racing in my view. Racing has suffered from an over reliance on aero, and terrible/boring tracks being introduced.

      Some I’m afraid I cant agree.

  2. David-A (@david-a) said on 4th March 2011, 0:24

    The FIA has done excellent work in its pursuit of greater safety and this year sees a range of further improvements to the car including extra wheel tethers

    Which means luckily, we’re less likely to see stuff like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e876Uwn3CY

  3. Carlitox (@carlitox) said on 4th March 2011, 0:25

    It is true that safety is being improved year after year. I remember Juan Pablo Montoya saying in an interview in 2001: “I think that you could have worse injuries falling from the stairs at home than crashing in a F1 car” He’s right, don’t you think?
    But, Motorsport Is Dangerous, always and for ever. It is part of it, and no matter how many improvements are made, it’ll always remain there, waiting.
    By the way, this is my first comment in the site, so hello everyone!

  4. Hare said on 4th March 2011, 0:33

    2001, not 2011 Keith.. :) The front page excerpt reads 2011… I’m sure you’ll notice :)

  5. Lewis said on 4th March 2011, 0:46

    You seem to praise F1 survival cells/track design as the root cause for safety development,..I think crash barriers have come on an awful lot too. Racing in a ‘controlled area’ helps F1 as every inch can be certified safe. If rallying does fall down it is in this area, in my opinion. Every inch of a stage should become a ‘controlled area’ and be subject to the same measures as F1 Fia regs. Kubicas accident shouldnt have been a possibility, but the WRC/FIA must learn from it. ps I know it wasnt WRC event

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 4th March 2011, 8:38

      Because rallying is in a real-world environment it is next to impossible to make every stage a controlled area. However, looking at the quality of existing armco would be a good start.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th March 2011, 8:51

        Exactly. I think this is the perfect entry for Todt to beat the drum on “making roads safe”.

        Saving on road investments as well as on upkeep (and corruption surely) has a big effect on safety.
        Actually I am pretty sure, that those rally tracks are safer than the roads surrounding them, as a safety inspection is done.
        Here they recently opened a new stretch of Highway only to find out after 2 weeks running, that the guard rail is not up to spec so they limited the speed to 80 kmh until the constructor replaces it.
        How many pieces of road were not discovered?

  6. Stefanauss said on 4th March 2011, 1:43

    As a personal note, the thing for me is that the tremendous improvement in F1 safety standard followed by Senna’s and Ratzenberger’s deaths actually delayed the very moment when I *really* realized motorsport is a gamble with the death, when i first started following motor races as a kid, in 1997.

    I learned it the brutal way (from a fan perspective, clearly), in a race which i happened to watch live by chance.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tl-6oqN0i4

  7. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 4th March 2011, 2:16

    Mark Webber in Valencia 2010, Trulli in Silverstone in 03-04, the crash in Brazil 03 & who can ever forget 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. Just goes to show how safe F1 really is.Can we make it even more safer is the question the FIA needs to ask themselves now.

  8. Oliver said on 4th March 2011, 5:58

    Sauber were one of the contributors to enhanced driver safety. After Wedlingers crash in Monaco, and going into coma for almost a month, they voluntrarily introduced the raised cocpit side walls, despite the penalty to outright performance.
    The system is now standard on all cars and has prevented drivers from suffering serious injuries in freak accidents.

    No matter how benign racing seems to be of late, on takes a freak accident to realise the drivdrs live in constant danger. Wurz vs Coultard, Autralia had the potential to present a very gory scene, likewise Webber vs Kovelainnen, Valencia, hitting an overhead advertising board at a slightly different angle, and the driver kine up couldhave changed for this season.

    It may look too easy but coming to a sudden stop on a wall and you will find out its not a video game.

  9. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 4th March 2011, 7:22

    Surtees’ death still upsets me. I still remember the feeling of shock when it was announced those marshals died, it was horrible. I don’t care if they’re 2 seconds a lap slower because of it, I don’t want anything like that happening again.

  10. And of course, it goes without saying that 2000-2009 was the first F1 decade to not include any driver deaths, with a good 6-and-a-half years before, and so far a year after. I think Robert Kubica’s Montreal crash shows that you near-enough don’t die in Formula One cars any more. I don’t think the sport can be made much safer than it already is. Any changes for the better are going to be in the form of little tweaks here and there (like adding more wheel teathers) and will be few and far between, rather than the drastic measures seen throughout the 90’s and the early years of this millennium.

    I believe the only way to make F1 safer than it is now is to do what they have done with the first race of this season – not have it at all.

  11. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 4th March 2011, 7:45

    Hi Carlitox, welcome!

    Perhaps the scariest incident in F1 recently was Buemi’s tyres popping off in China. At least you can control to an extent what happens in/to the car but that was just freakish. I was glad to hear about the extra tethers for this year.

    The technology is there to be used and in some cases, F1 was the pioneer of it. Safety first, spectacle later.

  12. Alex Bkk (@alex-bkk) said on 4th March 2011, 8:48

    It doesn’t seem that long ago to me, but it used to be a bit like this in F1… the ’78 Italian GP.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wk7uSuWPkE&feature=related

    10 years just isn’t long enough…

  13. verstappen said on 4th March 2011, 8:53

    As long as the cars have open cockpits and wheels and go as fast as they do now, it’s allright with me.

    Webber’s survival, I think is really a consequence of the measures. Schumi not being beheaded… I don’t know if that was the measures or just luck. It looked so close!

  14. Ned Flanders (@ned-flanders) said on 4th March 2011, 9:41

    I always felt that the Graham Beveridge and Paolo Ghislimberti’s deaths were overlooked somewhat… everyone goes on about how there have been no fatalities since Imola 1994, as though only the drivers’ deaths are noteworthy. Thanks for remembering them

  15. CNSZU said on 4th March 2011, 11:08

    Racing has become too safe, and I blame the nanny state for that.

    Kids have become over protected, and work places have fire extinguishers placed every 10 meters. Everybody has become terrified by the thought of danger. The concept of risk is seen as something evil. This is what’s wrong with society today.

    The racing drivers of the past were real men, today they are wimpy, little kids who need to be taken care of by their dads. The new race tracks are much too safe, and therefore unimaginably boring. Grandstands are placed a mile from the track.

    F1 used to be a real sport, now it’s nothing but a playstation game, a pathetic shadow of it’s gladiator past. This is sadly what we are getting, because danger is now politically incorrect.

    • Burnout said on 4th March 2011, 12:11

      I’m sorry, but other people risking death for your entertainment is unacceptable. Unless your name happens to be Caesar.

      In any case, it’s not like the cars have become slower or the drivers have become any less talented. I’d even say we’re facing a glut of talented drivers since they’re not getting killed on track.

      I’m with you on kids being overprotected, but it’s one thing to obsessively put child-proof locks everywhere and something else altogether to keep a racing driver from dying in a crash.

      • CNSZU said on 4th March 2011, 12:43

        Motor racing has always intrinsically been linked with danger, that is what excites people about it, both spectators, and especially, drivers. Take the danger aspect away, and you’re left with a boring, irrelevant, car procession.

        And the drivers today really are sissies, complaining about every possible thing, eg. heavy rain, fresh asphalt and driving at dusk. I would tell those rich mama-boys: grow balls, or go home to mama, you little wimp.

        • Andy C said on 4th March 2011, 14:08

          Is there a comment for worst comment of the day. What a load of rubbish.

          You just ask someone who raced in, or engineered in F1 during these so called “Glory days”, how many friends they lost.

          Of course, “armchair” bravery is very easy.

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