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. tobinen said on 4th March 2011, 11:18

    Wasn’t it James Hunt who said one of the reasons people used to watch F1 was to see an accident/someone be killed?

    I think also Jacques Villeneuve said that it was too safe for drivers.

    Safety for spectators and marshals, absolutely.

    Drivers go in to the game with both eyes open and know there could be a chance of injury/death.

  2. kowalsky said on 4th March 2011, 11:27

    the fact that a not very big accident like lauda’s in 1976 no longer causes such big injuries, is one of the bigest achievements of the sport. In the 70’s we could see stupid accidents at not very high speeds, that ended up on a fire, and a driver burning inside the car.
    But on the other hand, coming out of accidents like kubica’s 2007, or webber’s 2010, without a scratch, makes the sport a lesser challenge in my view.

  3. Johnny86 said on 4th March 2011, 11:52

    I am quite happy with the way formula 1 is evolving and improving as far as safety is concerned. Its not like they have compromised good racing due to safety reasons. Its not like they’ve introduced ridiculous rules like “no wheel to wheel racing through 130r because of safety concerns.” They’ve just made the cars stronger and the circuits safer. It gives the driver a better sense of security. So as long as they dont tamper with the quality of racing in the name of safety ,i am totally cool.

    • kowalsky said on 5th March 2011, 2:42

      i have to disagree here. What about puting that stupid chicane at barvelona’s last right hander for safety reasons? That’s lessening the challenge on safety grounds, when it’s not neccesary in my view.

  4. Toro Stevo said on 4th March 2011, 11:56

    Well, marshals and supporters go to the track knowing there is the slim chance of injury as well, even if it is a lower risk than that the drivers bear. Similarly, like the drivers in some accidents, they aren’t always necessarily in control of the circumstances that might lead to these accidents either. They are always unfortunate, and we should strive to limit the chances of that happening, but it’s incorrect to divide drivers and non-drivers into different camps when it comes to safety.

    I would add pit crew into the equation as well. How often have they been standing next to cars on fire or pit lane accidents, with no barrier between them and the car? The HRT incident at Monza last year is an example of what can happen.

  5. John said on 4th March 2011, 12:30

    I have to applaud you for not doing what so many F1 journalists have done. I get very annoyed when I read articles stating Senna to be the last F1 fatality. The 2 marshals who died in 2000 and 2001 deserve to be remembered as much as anyone else.

  6. Dipak T said on 4th March 2011, 13:09

    People here are obviously confusing driver fatalities with adequately punisheing driving errors.

    Well, if they make a small driving error, life drifting wide of braking a bit too late, then they should have to deal with dirt on their tyres and losing track position, this is F1 after all.

    If they have lost control at 180mph in a corner, then the run off should be there to keep then safe. Their Grand prix should be over, they should also be alive. I hold no truck with the idea that Grand prix racing needs to more safe, it just needs to be more discerning.

    And we should never have a marshall or spectator fatality again, just for entertainment.

  7. taurus (@taurus) said on 4th March 2011, 13:10

    Nobody wants to see drivers killed every week, but the element of danger is what makes F1 so attractive to a lot of people. Not everyone is interested in shark-fins, F-ducts and double diffusers.

    To be honest, Kubica in Montreal ’07 is the only crash since Ratzenberger’s where I’ve really thought: “He’s dead.”

    F1 is pretty safe nowadays – it will NEVER be totally safe, people WILL be hurt and be killed in future, it is the nature of the sport.

    “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” Ernest Hemingway.

  8. Damon (@damon) said on 4th March 2011, 13:41

    People kind of confuse spectacular crashes with drivers actually getting injured or dying.
    You can have one without the other!

    We all love spectacular crashes, and there’s nothing wrong in it. As long as you have fast cars, there will always be crashes.
    It’s not the injury to the driver that makes them spectacular – it’s the damage to the car.
    So, I hope to see great crashes, but with the drivers always getting out of the cars fine and healthy.

    I’ve seen a lot of deaths live on tv in my life as a motorsport fan.
    Senna 1994, F1 (I didn’t see Ratzenberger’s death)
    Jeff Krosnoff 1996, Indycar
    Greg Moore 1999, Indycar
    Gonzalo Rodriguez 1999, Indycar

    It breaks your heart every time. It’s not part of the sport. Crashes are, death is not.

    • Burnout said on 4th March 2011, 14:35

      “Crashes are a part of motorsport. Death is not”

      I think that would be a very cool, if somewhat politically incorrect, slogan for a safety campaign.

  9. Rob Wilson said on 4th March 2011, 14:47

    Fatalities are inevitable, i think we have been lucky to have a 10 year gap really, yes safety has obviously ben massively improved but just look at incidents like even a couple of the top of my head from this year like schumacher and liuzzi at abu dhabi, lucky. There is a lot of incidents like that – Trulli going over the top of chandhoks head at Monaco…you know sooner or later one of these seemingly minor incidents wont go so well and i dread the day.

  10. DaveW said on 4th March 2011, 14:59

    Burnout’s formula is an interesting one, but for those craving the thrill of a fire or massive head injury, crashes will not be good enough. Because where would be the famous risk that signifies “balls” or whatever the childish machisimo demands, if people just walk away and wave to the crowd—as if they were shot out of a cannon at the circus and landed in a net.

    Im not quite at ease with Keith blessing F1 safe because of a lack of accidents with bad injuries. It’s easy to say and fair to say that Kubica’s accident would have killed in a car from 15 years ago. But as an analytical matter, Kubica walking way does not disprove the proposition that a driver faces a high risk of death in that type of accident, and faces a high risk of having that type of accident. The worst possible form of risk management would be to look at escapes from back crashes and say, there, that proves the cars are safe. You might say its like how the space shuttle engineers decided that foam hitting the orbiter at launch was not a problem beause it never caused a big enough hole in a heat shield, until it did.

    If you see a crash where the monocoque is shattered and the guys feet are flapping in the breeze, and if your goal is that the safety cell lives up to its name, that means you have a serious saftey issue with car design to look at, rather than an occasion to pat yourself on the back. My sense, if you look at recent examples, such as the Schumacher-Luzzi crash in Abu Dhabi,is that we may be whistling past the graveyard, that we have become complacent due to the lack of deaths.

    • Burnout said on 4th March 2011, 15:09

      I didn’t put up any formula for entertaining racing. But safety standards are going up everywhere in F1. I read somewhere that if Massa had been using the same kind of helmet that he had when he started in 2002, he may not have survived that accident in 2009.

      Of course, it’s impossible to make an open-wheel open-cockpit car completely safe. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

    • Oliver said on 4th March 2011, 19:21

      @DaveW
      The complacency of which you speak is what has resulted in the role over hoop being pushed further back from the driver’s head as we see inrecent years.
      The role over hoops being as much as 6 – 10 inches behind the drivers head is what frightens me with accidents like Luizzi – Schumacher and Trulli – Chandok.

  11. SennaNmbr1 (@sennanmbr1) said on 5th March 2011, 7:53

    I wish the drivers were sat a bit more upright. I’m sure they could then see to the sides better and avoid all the stupid little crashes that ruin races. Like Webber and Hamilton at Singapore, for example.

    I wouldn’t want a return to the late 80s/early 90s where the head and shoulders of the driver are sticking out of the cockpit, but if the driver had a bit more sideways vision I think it would improve the racing on the odd occasion that two cars are side-by-side.

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