Henry Surtees: 1991 – 2009

SurteesHenry Surtees, son of 1964 world champion John surtees, has passed away following an incident in a Formula 2 series race at Brands Hatch this afternoon.

The most sincere condolensces from all of us at Formula1blog.com to the Surtees family and friends. If words could speak, they would mean even less at times like these. It is often those who are left with the memory of a loved one gone that exemplify the character and integrity of those they have lost. Henry Surtees certainly touched a lot of hearts and lives and it is with profound grief that we send our thoughts and prayers to the Surtees family on this most difficult evening.

The 18-year-old Henry Surtees was contesting the second F2 race of the weekend when he was struck by an errant wheel that had bounced back on track from Jack Clarke’s car, who had spun and hit the barrier at Westfield Bend.

There have been many questions regarding wheel tethers to prevent this type of thing happening. I have not read the F2 Technical Manual but have scanned the Technical regulations as published by the FIA. Wheel tethers are a feature on the F2 car according to this excerpt from the FIA’s web site:

All of these features and the cars had to pass the rigorous FIA safety checks as well. Palmer said: “For any new car for an FIA series above F3 performance the FIA requires compliance with the 2005 F1 safety standards, particularly with regard to the many impact tests. These are extremely demanding for any new car. For our new Williams F2 car they were even more of a challenge, both because of the short timescale for the design and build of the car but also the fact that the objective was to design a car more than twice as strong as an F3 car – yet cost half the amount to provide.”

Despite all of this, the Formula Two car passed all of the tests first time round. Palmer said: “This was an outstanding result and a great testimony to Patrick Head’s team. As well as complying with the FIA survival cell impact tests, including side impact, nose push-off, nose impact, roll over bar and rear impact structure tests, our F2 car incorporates the latest 2009 F1
head surround protection requirements, wheel tethers and many other detail safety benefits such as the accident data recorder and even a cockpit light that illuminates to warn rescue teams that the car has been subjected to a very high G impact.

“Although expensive and demanding to comply with, I am very appreciative of the fact that the FIA puts so much effort into researching the optimisation of safety and setting standards that we as a constructor can adopt to give us the comfort that we are providing our competitors with the safest possible race car with which to compete.”

As a fledgling series and brainchild of FIA president Max Mosley, I suspect that the FIA should look long and hard at the safety issues involved in F2. This is a freak accident and hardly one that can be laid at the feet of Clarke, Williams F1 (designer of the F2 car), Motor Sport Vision (MSV) or Surtees himself.

But as with all tragedies, what can be learned and how can the FIA make this series safer for the young driver who contest in it? I suspect an inquiry will be held to determine cause and reason and sometimes blame but in the end, this is a most difficult time for the FIA’s new series.

Please leave your condolences, memories and thoughts for family, friends and fans to read below.

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