Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Dicing with death; is Motorsport really the safest it can be?

Today, the sad news that British racing driver Sean Edwards had been killed in a crash in Australia filtered through - another tragic and young life lost to Motorsport. May I extend my condolences and prayers onto the Edwards family, and all those who knew Sean. It is a sad, sad loss.

The news comes days after former Formula 1 test driver Maria De Villota was found dead in her hotel room in Seville, little over a year after her crash in straight-line testing for Formula 1 team Marussia. The crash left De Villota without the use in her right eye, and lengthy treatment after sustaining serious head and facial injuries in the crash in June 2012. Her family and doctors have since confirmed that her tragic death was linked to that crash.

Another British driver, Dario Franchitti, was also involved in a heavy crash during the Houston Grand Prix, fracturing his ankle, breaking two vertebrae and two ribs. The IndyCar driver has since had numerous operations since the incident. These stories also tragically coincide with the anniversary of the death of British IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon two years ago, after a horror collision at the IZOD IndyCar World Championship in Las Vegas.

All of these tragic accidents led to the one question - is Motorsport really safe for drivers?

Motorsport is often considered as the most dangerous sport, with drivers regularly putting their lives and their trust in the hands of their cars and mechanics. There is no doubt that safety has much improved as cars and technology has envolved over the years, with the safety of drivers - in Formula 1 in particular - extremely safe. Formula 1 cars now compared to 20 years ago are much different; for example, the drivers sit much further down in the cockpit of the car, so their head is more protected should a crash occur. The cockpit dimensions are also wider, to aid a drivers escape should he/she crash - we often the drivers removing part of the car to help them get out. The FIA have also made a ruling that all Formula One cars must have a fire extinguisher system in place, automatically spreading foam across the chassis should a fire be detected. If we go back to 1980, it was only then that a permanent medical facility was required at all tracks, and it was only six years later that a medevac helicopter became mandatory at races.

The safety within Formula One can be seen by the fact the last fatality of a driver during a race, was the late Ayrton Senna, during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Since then, we have seen big accidents; Felipe Massa's crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix and Robert Kubica's big crash during the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix just to name a couple. Although serious injuries have been sustained, no fatalities have occured, which is perhaps a testimony to safety in Formula One nowadays. Another example was when Mark Webber completely somersaulted his Red Bull at the European Grand Prix in 2010, yet the Australian walked away from his car relatively unscathed.

Of course, the safety measures are different in other concepts of Motorsport, such as IndyCar, but there is no doubt safety has improved greatly. We should acknowledge that sadly, Motorsport is extremely dangerous and tragedies continue to occur, but we can also acknowledge the lengths manufactuers and governing bodies will go to protect those in the driving seat.

In rememberance of Sean Edwards, Maria De Villota, Dan Wheldon and all those who have tragically lost their lives doing something they love - may they rest in peace.

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