A bizarre title for a serious subject.
Yet again the sport of driving a racing car fast is in mourning after the loss of one of our own.
The death of Justin Wilson is a tragic event and ultimately more so as it was potentially avoidable.
Motor racing has made massive advances over the last 21 years and many lives have been spared since Imola 1994, because of the initiatives put in place by Max Mosley and the FIA .
We in the “business” could not believe that such wholesale changes could be put into effect so quickly to improve the safety of the cars, but amazingly every team and set of designers came up with solutions of some sort and the sight of drivers’ shoulders above the cockpit became a thing of the past.
Some people decried the lack of ‘seeing the driver working’ and some drivers and engineers made comments about the lack of peripheral vision causing more accidents than the change saved.
However very quickly the designers clawed back any aero losses and made the cars look attractive again and the extra incidents? Well we’ll never know.
At a similar time a mad cap idea came about to take a random piece of carbon fibre and some nylon straps and attach it to the drivers helmets to prevent violent head movements in severe accidents – the cause of many deaths previously. No young driver now would even consider racing without a HANS device. Fact.
What has been achieved in motorsport safety since 1994 is astonishing and should be applauded, but we should not stop there. The fact remains the biggest hazard to racing drivers in single seater motorsport remains the risk of objects hitting the driver’s head. We came terrifyingly close to a horrible accident in GP3 in Spa-Francorchamps when British racer Matt Parry avoided being hit in the head by a stray wheel by just a few feet, instead it hit the front of his car. Less than 12 hours later, Justin Wilson wasn’t able to avoid debris from another car’s accident. Two incidents, in just one day. One a few feet from being a tragedy, the other a heartbreaking one.
While motorsport is as ‘safe’ as it has ever been and will never be without risks due to its very nature, if there are obvious solutions, we should pursue them and we should do so quickly and with serious intent.
The death of a much loved competitor such as Justin Wilson – who was as we know so much more than just a racing driver – demonstrates how such tragedies bring together our sporting community and how we come together in support of those affected. We should use that spirit and the power, know-how and resources of this industry to work together and find solutions to the most obvious risks.
At such a tragic time it’s easy to be seen to be jumping on a bandwagon with knee jerk reactions and no doubt my opinions will provoke criticism. But I wish I had written this piece earlier as the loss of our friend Henry Surtees stays with me everyday and I dread the inevitable next tragedy. Justin’s cruel loss has prompted me to finally comment.
Money is not the issue here. We are in an industry / sport which has a combined annual spend of billions of pounds, surely between us all we can find a solution quickly; proportionally all the teams and manufacturers can contribute for the greater good.
There is no reason why a system cannot be designed and produced that ultimately fits all modern single seaters, an F4 driver is at the same risk as an Indy Car driver.
Engineers will always find excuses why it won’t work, but if as much time was spent looking for solutions instead of problems we would reach the answer sooner and lives will be saved.
As for being a drama queen, I don’t think so, just a father who feels a massive responsibility towards the young men and women who drive my cars every day.