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DEATH!!! and other pleasant topics

 

  Motor Racing is Dangerous!  It must be. It says so on your admission ticket. And not just in these tedious Ëlf n Safety” ridden times. It used to declare this on the tabards of professional photographers in the days where to get the best shot you stood on the very edge of the track. Long sigh – the good old days…Despite a few close calls oddly enough very, very few of these guys were ever killed by an errant F1 car occupying a joint moment in space and time. However it just takes one tiny piece of crap luck to induce the most tragic of circumstances.

 

  And one tiny piece of crap luck was all it took to end the life of Justin Wilson last Sunday. It was such crap luck that the accident that claimed his life did not even involve him. Justin was many cars back from Sage Karem when the young American lost it and clouted the wall. It was such crap luck that the nose cone from Karem’s car took the one direction from that impact directly into Wilson’s path. It could have gone in any million other directions and posed no threat. We have all seen it hundreds of times as the following drivers fly through the scattering debris fields, whether on ovals or on road courses. Daniil Kyvat flying through the shotgun blast that just moments before had been Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing in Hungary a couple of weeks ago springs to mind. And we usually think, “Wow, that was lucky”. When in reality it’s not. The odds of any of those pieces being of a size to do any damage and being on the one degree of direction out of the millions it could go are akin to the odds of a Lotto win. 999,999 times out of a million there will be no problem. That poor Justin collected an entire nose cone, which would have arrived with the same devastating force as the fire extinguisher that killed Tom Pryce back in ’77, was now, just as it was then, just utterly crap luck.

 

  There are several things about crap luck. One is that it doesn’t discriminate. It is just as likely to happen to a really decent guy like Justin as an arse-hole. Although when I think back on it – it seems to happen more often to nice guys but maybe that’s just because we feel it more keenly when it does. Another is that you can’t legislate against it. Unless none of us ever leave the hospital we are born in, crap luck will occur, somewhere, sometime, somehow. You just have to cope with it as best you can and try not to over-react. I have noticed over the last few days the rehashing of the idea of having fighter-jet style cockpit canopies on open wheel racing cars to prevent any possibility of head strikes. Seems reasonable at first sight. Until you think about it. The car in front drops oil, or mud all over your canopy, how do you clean it at high speed? Bit dangerous that. Had a prang and your car is upside down and on fire, you can’t open the canopy. Bit dangerous that. You do an Ascari and head into the harbour at Monaco and can’t open the canopy… All to protect a driver from something that is extremely rare. In my memory in major categories just three other drivers have lost their lives to a head strike since the afore mentioned Tom Pryce in 1977. One was Ayrton Senna who was speared by his own suspension arm and the other was Henry Surtees who collected an entire wheel during a Formula 2 race in 2009.

 

  If the powers that be want to make motor racing a little less dangerous, and lets face it, it will never be entirely safe, there are a couple of areas that can be looked at, and really should have already been so. The first (not in any particular order of importance) is the level of marshalling standards in some countries and the pressure brought to bare on marshalling decisions by the evils of TV money. Generally the standard is very high but occasionally stupidity springs forth when under the pump from the almighty dollar. Example – an unfortunately to recent one – I don’t give a flying fuck what the FIA say, the act of having a 20 ton tractor on the same side of the barriers as racing cars, in the wet, with ever darkening and worsening visibility and NOT putting out a safety car was just plain STUPID.

 

And stupidity can be learned from, so long as you don’t bury your head in the sand and deny it. Of course if the race had been held earlier in the day as many requested due to the incoming weather pattern none of this would have happened and Jules would probably still be with us but the almighty TV dollar demanded no change to the schedule. Guys, learn to be a bit more pro-active and flexible, it’s a multi-billion dollar sport. You can afford to lose a few bucks here and there with the odd change, after all, if the race had happened a few hours earlier the TV companies could still have played their telecast at the programmed time. No one would have missed it. Except Jules.

 

  The second, and this is the one that pisses me off the most, is driving standards. The FIA seems to be just plain gutless when holding drivers to account for their actions. The real decline seems to have started with Senna – let’s be honest here – he did admit he intentionally rammed Prost at Suzuka in 1990 – and absolutely nothing was done about it. The HOLEY dollar spoke again. Michael Schumacher did it twice – in Adelaide 1994 and Jerez 1997 - and absolutely nothing was done about it. The HOLEY dollar spoke again.

 

If the FIA had any balls both of these guys would have been completely disqualified from the championships, loosing all placings, points and prize money and then given VERY lengthy suspensions. But all they got was a slap on the wrist. So we now have an entire generation of twerps who think that behaving like this is acceptable. Robin Frijns, for example, who intentionally took out Jules Bianchi at Barcelona to win the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 title. Just this weekend in the GP2 race at Spa, Pierre Gasly drove Daniel de Jong off the track going through the flat-out Blanchimont curve, whether through intent or stupidity is irrelevant, causing de Jong to have an almighty accident resulting in fractured vertebrae. De Jong is in hospital having had surgery and bloody lucky to not be paralysed. And what furious punishment did Gasly receive? A 10 second penalty. Wow. Give the prat six months to think about it and you might just change his behaviour. Ten seconds? Broken Vertebrae? You’ve got to be kidding. And while on the topic of GP2 standards, just how many accidents does Sergio Canamasas have to cause before he receives a substantial suspension?

 

  Rant over. For the time being. Not only is motor racing dangerous, so is that incurable disease – life. Although many of you wouldn’t have heard about it because there wasn’t any spectacular TV footage, two other ex Formula one drivers passed away this week simply because life ran out. Eric Thompson, who is one of very few drivers to score world championship points on debut, and has an even rarer distinction of scoring points in his only world championship appearance with a fifth place for Connaught in the 1952 British Grand Prix. Thompson was better known for his sports car exploits but also scored a pair of non-championship wins at Snetterton in 1953. Eric was 95, not a bad innings. Guy Ligier also departed the scene aged 85. Better known for his eponymous Grand Prix team of the 70’s and 80’s, Guy was also a former French Rugby international, motor cycle racer, sports car constructor and racer and Formula One driver, racing privately entered Cooper-Maseratis and Brabham-Repcos during 1966 and 67. Their luck was not so crap. Cést la Vie.  

 

Sam Snape

 

27-08-2015