This evening I came home to read about the tragic news of the death of Henry Surtees in yesterday’s second Formula Two race at Brands Hatch.
Yesterday afternoon I opted to watch the German MotoGP, where spectators were treated to an excellent motor race. Once that was over, I logged onto the internet. It was soon clear that there had been a serious accident in Formula Two.
Henry Surtees was struck on the head by a loose tyre after he drove into the path of debris from Jack Clarke’s accident. Clarke spun off and hit the barrier, sending his wheel flying into the path of Surtees. It seems as though Surtees was immediately knocked unconscious. His car went straight on at Dingle Dell, hitting the barrier and coming to a standstill shortly afterwards.
Straight away it was clear that it was a nasty accident, and the fact that there was very little news regarding his condition in the following hours rang alarm bells. Later in the evening news broke that Henry Surtees had died.
It is trivial to point out that motorsport is dangerous. But a lot of effort has been put in over the years to try and eradicate and chance of serious injury or death. The risk posed by flying wheels and tyres must count among the most difficult of these problems to solve, and yesterday’s tragic events at Brands Hatch underline just how dangerous they can be.
The two most recent fatalities related to Formula 1 were both caused by loose wheels. During the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, circuit marshal Graham Beveridge was struck by a tyre which was sent flying after Jacques Villeneuve was involved in a high-speed accident with Ralf Schumacher. Just a few races before at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix, another marshal, Paolo Ghislimberti, was killed following a first-lap pile-up where Jarno Trulli’s tyres flew off his car. Those are the only two F1-related fatalities since the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994.
Since those accidents, a lot of effort has been put into strengthening the wheel tethers which are supposed to prevent wheels from flying off at high speed. Unfortunately, a solution has not yet been found, and wheel continue to fly off cars regularly. At this years Australian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica narrowly avoided being struck on the head by a flying tyre following his accident involving Sebastian Vettel.
All forms of motorsport face such dangers, and Formula Two has had some accidents involving flying rear tyres already in its short history, as Brits on Pole have noted. Questions are already tentatively being asked about the safety of the Formula Two cars which are designed and built by WilliamsF1. But the tragic death of Henry Surtees only underlines the risks that we already knew existed in motorsport.
The situation is particularly awful given that his father, the World Champion Grand Prix motorcyclist and Formula 1 driver John Surtees, raced in F1 during the 1960s and early 1970s, when the sport was probably at its most dangerous, and is still alive today. Henry Surtees, racing in an age when motor racing has probably never been so safe, died when he was just 18.
Both clearly had high hopes that Henry Surtees would reach F1. Here is a video from March of this year where John and Henry Surtees explain what attracted them to Formula Two.
My thoughts are with the family and friends of Henry Surtees.