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.

6 comments

  1. Cridland

    Having returned attention to F1 after turning away for thirty years, I’m freshly ashamed of enjoying a blood sport. Maybe the Kubica crash gave some false confidence.

  2. Cridland

    And can someone explain why F2 isn’t run as support racing for F1 anyway? And if it’s because GP2 is in the way, then isn’t one of these series superfluous? And –just because I don’t know where to go for the details– Aren’t F2 wheels likely to be tethered to the chassis as are F1 wheels?

  3. As I watch the video of the accident I can only be amazed at how easily was a live lost. We have seen horrible crashes in the last years and nothing happened. It is as we have forgotten that the pilots are putting their lives at risk for our amusement.
    May he rest in peace.

  4. Cridland, Formula Two was invented last year by Max Mosley. His stated intention was to create an extra rung in the ladder for drivers who couldn’t afford to race in GP2. I would agree that there are now too many feeder series.

    Ponzonha, you are right. We have seen so many horrific crashes recently that resulted in nothing. Cridland already linked to the famous Kubica crash. I can also think of Ernesto Viso’s major GP2 crash at Magny-Cours in 2007. You watch these crashes and the drivers escape relatively unscathed.

    Yet, something as simple as driving into someone else’s flying wheel is still fatal. It wasn’t even his accident and there was nothing he could do. It was dreadful luck. I would expect the FIA and others to look with renewed purpose to try and find ways to stop this from happening.

  5. Cridland

    For the record, apparently F2 wheels are in fact tethered as are F1 wheels.

  6. [...] I said last week following the death of Henry Surtees that the greatest risk that faces racing drivers is not having a heavy impact with a wall, but being hit by a wheel. This week we must extend that to debris in general. The spring that fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car is said to have weighed around a kilogram, not the sort of thing you want to be approaching at upwards of 160mph. Meanwhile, his car’s heavy impact with the tyre barrier does not appear to have caused or exacerbated any serious injury. [...]