It is awful that, less than a week after the death of Dan Wheldon, another major motorsport star has been killed during a race.
Unlike IndyCar, I follow MotoGP quite closely and I have watched all of the races this year. I was a big fan of Marco Simoncelli. For me, Marco Simoncelli was the clear stand-out rider in a MotoGP series that is not as exciting as it once was.
Simoncelli had his critics. Some thought he was too aggressive. It is perhaps true that sometimes he stepped beyond the line. But he was still young. As this year progressed he was beginning to become a more measured rider — and he was no less exciting for it.
Simoncelli has single-handedly saved a few dull MotoGP races by actually doing extraordinary, exciting things. His talent was clear for all to see, and I personally thought he would become a World Champion in the future.
Sadly the journey came to an end today. What is especially sad is that in the lap or so up to his fatal accident, he was demonstrating exactly what made him such a wonderful spectacle in a brilliant ding-dong battle with Alvaro Bautista.
Thoughts must also go out to Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi, who collided with Marco Simoncelli. It must be an unimaginably awful experience.
It is always a hair-raising experience watching motorcycles race. It is clearly an especially dangerous form of motorsport. As we see time and again, when control is lost, a bike can go anywhere. Worse still, a rider can go anywhere too. It is always a heart-stopping moment when a rider goes down in the middle of the circuit as opposed to a run-off area.
The skill and bravery of motorcycle racers is one of the things that makes it such a draw. But today, there was another reminder that the quest for more safety can never stop.
I was very shocked and upset to learn about the death of Dan Wheldon.
I don’t watch IndyCar for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that I don’t have Sky. If I did have Sky, I probably would watch, and I certainly keep up-to-date with the news from IndyCar in general.
Nothing qualifies me to say anything about Dan Wheldon, as I have never watched him race. But I was fully aware of what he achieved in IndyCar. With 16 IndyCar race victories — two of which were the Indianapolis 500, arguably the most prestigious race in the world — and an IndyCar championship under his belt, it is clear that Dan Wheldon was a class act.
It is difficult to escape the impression that IndyCar is a particularly dangerous category in motorsport. There are some horrendous incidents in IndyCar with high-speed cars, narrow oval circuits and inexperienced drivers. All of these are currently being pinpointed as contributory factors towards Dan Wheldon’s death.
But it would be naive to imagine that accidents like this won’t happen in any form of motorsport. I don’t know how it would affect me if I were to watch a fatal accident unfold before my eyes live on television. It has never happened before to me. With drivers and riders that I know of and follow, in categories that I enjoy, it is difficult enough just to hear the news from a secondary source.
As fans of motorsport, we sit down to watch a race in anticipation of being entertained. Usually it delivers. But instead, it sometimes presents this.
I have heard it said that one reason we love motorsport is because it can cover the full spectrum of human emotions. If only that wasn’t true.
There are lots of great things about the railway, but the industry’s use of language is not one of them.
I have often been amazed by the linguistic tangles conductors often find themselves in when they try to “talk posh” during announcements. Clearly they are not trained about the importance of plain English. This problem was covered excellently by the Guardian’s Mind Your Langauge blog calling for railspeak to be terminated.
Another recent article on the BBC News website looked over some of the dodgy phrasing of railway delay excuses. The cryptic but common explanations include “tanking train toilet” (the loos won’t flush) and “poor railhead adhesion” (the track is slippery).
On the ubiquitous “signalling problems”, the article notes that this is usually caused by cable theft.
I don’t know why they don’t say ‘It’s because some so-and-so has stolen 150 yards of cable.’ That’s going to get people on-side.
I was sad yesterday to learn of the death of Robert Sandall. While he is most celebrated as a music journalist, I was more aware of him as a radio presenter.
In 2001, when I was discovering my interest in experimental music, I was advised by someone on a messageboard to listen to the Radio 3 programme Mixing It, which Robert Sandall co-presented with Mark Russell. As the title of the programme suggests, it was a genuinely eclectic affair. It showcased all manner of new (and sometimes old) music without discrimination. That’s not to say they weren’t critical — the programme’s catchphrase became “where’s the skill in that?”
I was hooked to the programme during my teenage years. When it was broadcast late on Sunday nights, it helped take my mind off the fact that I had school in the morning. When it moved to Friday nights, I was unusual among my peers. While most were developing their social lives, I was listening to Radio 3. Robert Sandall was my John Peel.
Nothing has shaped my taste in music more than Mixing It. The programme demonstrated how to approach all types of music with a genuinely open mind, no matter how outlandish or unpromising the premise of the piece may seem. The message was: you never know, you might like it — and if you didn’t like it, at least it was interesting to listen to.
In 2007, Mixing It was axed by Radio 3 having been broadcast since 1990. The word I read time and again about this decision is ‘criminal’. Mixing It was a genuinely unique programme. It was just the sort of thing you think the BBC ought to excel at. But it was disposed of — with little in the way of justification — leaving the programme’s fans angry.
Soon after Radio 3 stopped broadcasting the programme, it was resurrected as Where’s the Skill in That? on Resonance. Sadly these broadcasts were more sporadic, and I missed many of these editions as a result.
Since Mixing It ended, I have not seen the point of listening to much in the way of music radio programmes. Nothing offers the combination of eclecticism, inquisitiveness and humour that Mixing It brought. I am sad that Mixing It is not on the airwaves today, and I am sorry that we won’t hear Robert Sandall broadcast again.
I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.
He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.
I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).
His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.
(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)
A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.
As you may guess from the title, this article is about motorsport. I do not normally write about motorsport on this website. That is reserved for my motorsport website, vee8. However, I have published it here as it is designed to be of interest to people who do not like motorsport.
You can listen to the full podcast below.
My name is Duncan, and I am a motorsport fan. Is it a bad thing? Am I evil? Do I need to join Petrolheads Anonymous?
This year’s Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. The Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have been wrapped up by Jenson Button and Brawn-Mercedes respectively, and now we have one last race to enjoy before the sport takes a break for the winter.
This has not been an easy year to be an F1 fan. In terms of newsworthy stories, it’s the sport that keeps on giving. But even by F1’s standards, it has been an extraordinary year for scandals.
Bear in mind that in previous years Formula 1 has brought extraordinary enough stories. There was, for instance, the so-called “spying” scandal which led to the sport’s governing body, the FIA, handing the McLaren team a fine of ONE HUNDRED MEELION DOLLARS. Then there was the “German prisoner” sex scandal involving the FIA’s President Max Mosley.
This year cranked up the scandal ever-further. Even in the first race, a major scandal blew up when Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were caught lying to the race stewards.
It also emerged this year that the Renault team had colluded with its driver Nelsinho Piquet to deliberately crash his car to hand an advantage to his team mate Fernando Alonso in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. This endangered the life of Piquet and of other drivers and spectators.
In the past year, two major manufacturers — Honda and BMW — have pulled out of the sport, with persistent rumours surrounding the commitment of the other manufacturers. Moreover, almost all of the teams threatened to break away from F1 to set up a rival championship, in protest at the way the sport is governed by Max Mosley and the FIA.
The governance of the sport may change this week, as Max Mosley is stepping down as FIA President. The election to replace him is taking place today, on Friday. This actually may have more widespread implications than many realise.
Even though during last year’s sex scandal Max Mosley was persistently described by the media as “F1 boss”, the job of FIA President goes much further than that. The FIA has significant sway over road safety issues and effectively represents car users on the world stage. If you are a member of the AA, the RAC or even the Camping and Caravanning Club, you are represented by the FIA.
Clearly, this year there has been a lot going on in the world of motorsport. While cynics point out that, for the sport’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, any publicity is good publicity, this all served to further discredit a sport which isn’t exactly the most popular among some. Formula 1 is seen by many as a sport which is dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, the personification of greed — and perhaps even sexist.
No doubt there is an element of truth to some of these accusations. So, how does this sit with me? I am a massive fan of motorsport, but I have liberal political views and a concern for the environment. Do I lack principles? Is F1 a guilty pleasure for me?
I actually see no reason why it should be. Some motorsport fans are unapologetic about their passion, and they see no reason to dress it up as anything but an extravagant bit of fun. But I see motorsport as a positive force that has a lot to contribute to the world.
Yes, Formula 1 is dangerous. This year, one driver, Felipe Massa, had an horrific accident when he was struck on the head while travelling at 170mph by a spring as heavy as a bag of sugar which had fallen off another car and was bouncing around on the circuit. He was lucky to have suffered no long term damage. The spring destroyed his helmet, but if it had hit him at another point he could have lost his sight or even died.
Sadly, one Formula Two driver was not so lucky. Henry Surtees was killed when he was struck on the head by a tyre which was bouncing around on the circuit after it had detached from another car in another accident.
While a ticket to a grand prix states in large letters, “motor sport is dangerous”, such accidents are mercifully rare in top-line motorsport these days. Major injuries are rare, and the last fatality in Formula 1 was in 1994. Believe it or not, more than 2½ times as many people have died while competing in the Great North Run than have died in F1 since 1981, when the Great North Run began.
But this year’s events in motorsport show that complacency should never set in, which is why improvements in safety are always being pushed forward. Perhaps the real scandal though is that, despite the increasingly safe environment that professional racing drivers face, 1.3 million people still die on the world’s roads every year.
F1 technology can play a major role in reducing the number of accidents on public roads, and already has done. In 2007, one F1 driver, Robert Kubica, survived a 75g impact with nothing more than light concussion. The materials that make an F1 car so safe are exotic and expensive, meaning that the opportunities to help make road cars safer using F1 research are a bit limited.
But electronics such as ABS and traction control are commonplace on today’s road cars. Such technologies unquestionably save lives all the time, and their development was helped by early applications in racing cars.
The money that flows through F1, and the high-stakes nature of the competition, make it a great test bed for important technologies that improve our daily lives. F1 is an R&D powerhouse.
Included on display are high-tech tyre pressure indicators which alert drivers to a developing puncture before it becomes dangerous. Then there are F1 materials being used to help protect troops in Afghanistan from bullets and explosions. Slip-resistant boots based on F1 tyre technology for people who work in slippery environments, thereby reducing injuries in the workplace, are also on display.
A bit more down to earth is the gadget that can stop your central heating system from becoming clogged up with rust and sludge, thereby reducing energy consumption in the home. Hospitals have even analysed mechanics’ behaviour and procedures during pitstops in order to improve the speed and accuracy of medical teams.
But how about the environmental impact of this gas-guzzling sport? I must say that my view is that rather too much is made of this. That is not to say that Formula 1 does not a significant environmental impact — it does. But emissions from the F1 cars themselves are actually a drop in the ocean. The racing itself does little environmental damage.
What is really damaging is all the travelling that teams, the media and fans must do in order to attend the races. The good news on this front is that F1 is carbon neutral, and has been since 1997. The FIA Foundation, the charity arm of the FIA, has taken into account not only emissions from the F1 cars and the travel of the teams, but also the transport of the fans that attend the races.
But any activity that involves being somewhere requires travel. F1 is a global sport, so there is a lot of global travel involved. But otherwise the sport actually seems rather restrained. In just 17-or-so races, a World Champion driver emerges.
Compare this to another competition, say the English Premier League in football. To come up with a mere national league-winning club, 380 football matches must be played, with all the travel this entails too. In comparison, F1 looks positively restrained.
Maybe that is an apples-and-oranges comparsion. It is just as well, then, that F1 technology also looks set to pave the way towards a green future. Formula 1 has the potential to help greatly reduce energy consumption. Refuelling during races will be banned from next year, shifting the balance more towards fuel consumption rather than raw power.
Another major initiative is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or kers, which the FIA finally legalised for this season. Kers is a system which harvests the kinetic energy that is dissipated under braking and would otherwise be wasted, and re-deploys that energy into the powertrain.
This technology has had a rather troubled birth in F1. The systems have been too expensive for teams to develop in the current economic climate, and it looks as though kers may take a back seat for a few years. There is also scepticism over whether kers as it is applied in F1 is actually relevant to road cars.
But one team, Williams, is adamant that its flywheel system will find a large variety of applications in the real world. The team says that its energy recovery system could improve road cars, vehicles used in mining, rail systems and “anything that moves”.
Plans continue to gather pace on this front. On Wednesday, the FIA outlined its plans for a green future of F1 (PDF). This includes a plan to make motorsport a competition based more on efficiency than raw power, and a stronger focus on energy recovery technologies.
The FIA also plans to introduce its own carbon neutral scheme, including offsetting its regulatory presence. It may also make carbon offsetting a condition of involvement in a championship.
So there you have it. Motorsport is a force for good in the world. Not bad for something that is hugely enjoyable. My halo is in tact.
Up until now, I have refrained from writing about the latest scandal to envelop F1 — allegations that Nelsinho Piquet’s crash at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix was engineered in order to fix the race so that Alonso could win. Now that Renault have been summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the WMSC (sound familiar?), it seems as though there is some substance to the allegations. At least there is enough of a suspicion that the FIA feels the need to take the situation very seriously.
Suspicion about the result has hung around since immediately after the race. Fernando Alonso’s strategy was unusual, though by no means unheard of. He was filled very light at the beginning so that he could pit a few laps before everyone else and hope for a Safety Car within those few laps to make up the places. How convenient, it was widely noted, that the Safety Car Alonso badly needed was brought out as a result of his team mate Piquet slinging his car into the wall.
Up until this week, though, I had always suspected that if there was any conspiracy on Renault’s part, it was to tell Piquet in the heat of the moment to push hard in the hope that he might crash. The way the situation is framed now, it seems as though the allegation is that the whole thing was premeditated. The thinking appears to be that the plan was formulated by Renault personnel and discussed with Piquet before the race began.
If these allegations are true, they should be taken very seriously indeed. It would surely be the biggest scandal ever to have hit Formula 1 (and that is saying something). This is no little sex game. It is not mere pilfering of intellectual property. The concern here isn’t even just about race fixing, though that is a serious charge in itself.
When you talk about deliberately crashing a car, that is a major safety issue. First of all there is the safety of the driver who is being asked to crash a car into a wall. Despite the high safety standards for drivers today, it is obvious to see how this plan could have had terrible consequences.
Then there is the safety of other drivers. Even though Piquet’s crash happened when there were no other drivers near him, this is not really the point. (Update: Actually, looking at the replay, there are other drivers near him, and indeed he is overtaken while the crash is still happening.) His crash left debris spread across the track. A driver could easily pick up a puncture and end up in his own serious accident.
This year we have also had bad experiences of debris causing serious injury to Felipe Massa and the death of Henry Surtees. In Hungary, the spring from Rubens Barrichello’s car was bouncing around for four seconds until it hit Massa’s helmet with disastrous consequences. How would anyone setting out to deliberately crash their car know that there won’t be any knock-on effects to the safety of other drivers?
That is before we even consider the safety of the spectators. In the video we can see that they are actually sitting very close to Piquet’s accident right next to the circuit. If shards of debris made their way into the crowd, we could be looking at injuries there too.
Comparisons with rugby union’s “bloodgate” scandal understate the nature of these allegations. Piquet’s crash could have involved real blood.
Yes, motorsport is dangerous. Everyone knows that. But everyone takes part under the assumption that safety comes first, and that no-one is deliberately setting out to cause danger. Let us be clear. If it is true that Piquet was instructed to deliberately crash the car, we could easily be looking at manslaughter charges rather than just race fixing charges.
That is why I find it so difficult to believe that the Renault team or anyone else involved in motorsport would actually consider concocting such a scheme. The allegations against Renault are very serious and as such there needs to be cast-iron evidence if any action is to be taken.
It seems unbelievable that Renault would leave behind any trace of their plan in the form of, for instance, their radio transmissions (although that didn’t stop McLaren from inexplicably trying to pretend they didn’t exist back in Australia this year). A secret code phrase is not inconceivable though.
I can easily envisage such a code phrase being something like “Fernando has been in for his stop”. It is, after all, not unusual for a driver to be told how his team mate is doing, and that simple piece of information would have told Piquet all he needed to know. I imagine the FIA will be studying the radio recordings of the Singapore race and other races to see if there is anything unusual at all about the Singapore transmissions in the run-up to Piquet’s crash.
Then comes the question of where exactly the new evidence has come from. The assumption seems to be that it has come from camp Piquet (either Jr or Sr). It is easy to see what Piquet’s agenda might be. The clear mission just now is to discredit Flavio Briatore — that is clear from Piquet’s incredible statement after he was sacked by Renault.
One thing makes me doubt that Piquet is the whistleblower is that this whole thing would show him up to be the sort of dummy would go along with such a dangerous scheme for his own short-term gain. If the allegations are true, Piquet is just as liable as the Renault team. If he thinks he will save his career by blowing the whistle, he really is a few marbles short.
The only way this calculation can work is that Piquet thought that his career was ruined anyway (which I suppose is likely), and he has nothing to lose and at least can bring Briatore down with him. Otherwise, Piquet’s only hope will be that he is looked upon favourably for being the whistleblower. But I think anyone who is happy to deliberately crash their car in a premeditated scheme ought to be set for a lengthy racing ban.
Amid all this, it is worth asking the question: is Renault the sort of team that would do this sort of thing. A certain constituency would say that it is in the nature of competitive drivers and teams to exploit loopholes in the regulations, and that creative interpretations of the rulebook are to be expected and, in some cases, celebrated.
The Benetton / Renault team which has been run by Flavio Briatore for most of the past twenty years has certainly seen its fair share of scandals over the years. This was particularly the case while Michael Schumacher was driving for them. In 1994 it seemed as though Benetton were never far away from trouble.
But the team has been reticent in pushing the regulations in recent years, probably having learnt its lesson from previous controversies. That was particularly noticeable when Renault stuck to the spirit of the engine freeze principle, while every other engine manufacturer upgraded their engine in the guise of improving reliability.
There was a smaller spygate-style scandal when team members were found to be in possession of McLaren intellectual property. But overall, the picture is mixed. Most of the team’s biggest examples of cheating happened fifteen years ago. As such, it is difficult to say if Renault is the sort of team that would willingly manipulate events in the manner which is alleged.
The FIA will want to consider the facts of the incident in question though. Or will they? It is interesting to consider if this might be Max Mosley’s parting shot. Given the political shenanigans from earlier this year, it is probably fair to say that Flavio Briatore is not Max Mosley’s favourite person. Is this another invention of (or inflation by) the FIA, as with the Stepneygate issue of two years ago?
Some people will always suspect the FIA’s motives, particularly why Max Mosley is in charge. Checkpoint 10 goes as far as to “blame the rules” for Renault’s alleged actions. I agree to an extent. The FIA’s rulebook is famously convoluted, and it was the ridiculous Safety Car rules that led to this situation in the first place. I draw the line at saying that such actions should be “commended” though — as I say, there could have been far more serious implications than mere race-fixing.
Yes, yes, I know. This is a race that happened almost two weeks ago. Sorry. You should see the list of articles I still haven’t written yet but need to get round to!
In the intervening period I have received an email asking me what I think of Renault’s ban from the European Grand Prix. Now I have been accosted in the comments by Becken for failing to review the Hungarian Grand Prix. So I’d better do it then!
First of all, you have to give massive amounts of praise to McLaren for their stunning comeback. It was clear at the Nürburgring that this was a team very much on the comeback trail. At the time I said that they could be challenging for wins in the second half of the season. But I didn’t expect it to be so soon, or so emphatic when it happened.
I am not Lewis Hamilton’s biggest fan, but I was delighted to see him winning in Hungary. It is a testament to the huge amount of effort that the McLaren team has put into developing their car — what quite frankly looked like a hopeless task just a couple of months ago. The achievement is all the more incredible when you consider that testing is banned, removing a vital tool to track how the car is developing.
Hamilton’s run at the front was not down to luck. Nor was it with someone climbing all over his gearbox. Indeed, who could even have predicted that the second-placed car running 11.5s behind would be the Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen? Are McLaren and Ferrari now once again the front-runners? It could be that kers has come of age.
At times, the grand prix had a very retro feel about it. This season has been all about a new order. But for the first phase of the race the leaders were Alonso and Hamilton, with Räikkönen in 4th. Three names we should be familiar with seeing at the front, but it was most bizarre to see it happening this year.
I can’t help but notice at the same time that the unusual stewards’ decisions have come back just as the old guard have returned to the front. During the first half of this season, the stewards were noticeably quiet (with the exception, of course, of Australia). Not now. Is there something about McLaren, Ferrari and Renault that makes the stewards just lose their minds?
As you might be able to tell, I am not very impressed with the decision to ban Renault from the European Grand Prix for Fernando Alonso’s wheel coming off. On one hand, you can understand why they did it. In the week which saw the awful death of Henry Surtees in a Formula Two race after he was hit by a wheel, and a day after Felipe Massa was hospitalised after driving into a piece of debris, seeing a wheel bouncing around the track was absolutely the last thing anyone wanted to see.
But the decision to ban the entire team from the next race feels like a complete overreaction, leading to the suspicion that it was a knee-jerk reaction. I could have understood a heavy fine, or some kind of suspended ban. But the FIA’s justification for the ban seems quite odd to me. They say that the Renault team “knowingly” released Alonso from his pit box with the wheel not securely in place. Seems a bit odd to me. Which would deliberately release their car in such a state?
Nonetheless, the fact is that the team apparently took no action after that. They neglected to inform Alonso — who thought he had a puncture — what the problem was. That seems pretty incompetent to me, if not downright negligent.
That is why I think a fine would be justified. But to ban them from the race, when we have seen countless instances of wheels falling off cars going unpunished (including a similar incident involving Alonso driving a Renault in Hungary in 2006!), is over the top in my view. That’s especially the case when you consider that the next race is in Valencia, where much of the crowd will be wanting to see Fernando Alonso in action. Sometimes you think Formula 1 likes to shoot itself in the foot.
Meanwhile, both of the teams that are battling for this season’s championship will be worried for different reasons. Brawn must now be worried about the drop in their car’s performance. There is no hiding behind explanations about the temperature. Jenson Button’s bewildered radio transmission, “How — HOW? — can this car be so BAD?” sums it up. Brawn have put something on their car to destabilise what was an awesome package.
It is not a complete disaster situation. Jenson Button finished 7th. But it now looks like Brawn are behind at least five teams: McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams and Toyota. Their journey is the opposite to McLaren’s, and their challenge will be all the more difficult with testing banned.
Button actually only lost four points of his lead, which is still 18.5 points. And that is the reason why Red Bull should be worried. Because if they are to have a hope of challenging for the Championship, they need to stay at the sharp end, and they can’t afford to have the third fastest car. They need to be at the front, collecting 18, 16, 15 points when they can. Their tally from Budapest was just six.
It must be remembered that Hungaroring is a rather unique circuit, and many of the following circuits are very different indeed. But if McLaren and Ferrari are able to leapfrog Red Bull in the long run, Red Bull need to rely on staying ahead of Williams, Toyota and Brawn if their championship battle is to come to anything.
In this sense, despite only scoring two points, Jenson Button now looks like even more of a shoe-in for the championship. I’m sure he doesn’t feel like it. I can’t wait to find out how the rest of the season unfolds.
I will review the Hungarian Grand Prix soon, but I have a couple of other articles I need to get out of the way first. I didn’t want to do any of that before mentioning Felipe Massa.
It goes without saying that I deeply hope that Felipe Massa makes a full recovery, and that it won’t be too long before he is racing again.
I was shaking during qualifying as news of what had happened to Massa had emerged. I don’t think I have ever felt that bad in all the time I have been watching Formula 1 since 1995, although Robert Kubica’s accident at Montreal in 2007 came close to that feeling.
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.
Martin Brundle has rightly pointed out that the term “freak accident” is inappropriate in motorsport. When you are travelling at speeds regularly approaching 200mph, there is only so much you can ever do to make it safe.
But there is no doubting that Felipe Massa was extraordinarily unlucky. The part that failed on the Brawn had never failed before. The spring then bounced around for four seconds, before just happening to be in exactly the right position to hit Massa’s helmet. You couldn’t aim it like that if you tried. Had Massa arrived a second earlier or later, or been a few inches further to the right, we probably would never have known about the spring flying around on the track.
That this should have happened just six days after the death of Henry Surtees adds further to the sense of tragedy. When you have one tragic accident it might be easy to dismiss it as a freak one-off, but to have two similar incidents in close succession rings alarm bells. Rubens Barrichello has compared this week to Imola 1994.
There will be a renewed look at safety, which I sense has taken a back seat since cost cutting became the more fashionable cause. Many are asking, is it time for Formula 1 to consider closed cockpits? The debate has been started by Ross Brawn, F1 Fanatic and Checkpoint 10. But there are no easy answers. This weekend during an IndyCar race we saw a perfect demonstration of the extra dangers that a closed cockpit may create, when Tony Kanaan’s car caught fire following a refuelling problem.
Going back to Felipe Massa, ever since the second he hit the tyre barrier the reports that have come out have been conflicting and confusing. Thankfully, the latest news appears to be positive. Let us hope that Massa will make a full and speedy recovery.
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.