I recently re-read professor Sid Watkins books â€œLife at the Limitâ€ and â€œLife Beyond the Limitâ€ Both are good reads and really show the advance in how the safety level in F1 has improved. Itâ€™s now so safe in F1 you can have a 75g impact with a wall and be disappointed your doctor says you canâ€™t race the following weekend just in case you have another accidentâ€¦
Of course it has been said that Motor Sport is â€œSaferâ€ but never safe. If that was ever needed to be proven, Henry Surtees dreadful accident at Brands Hatch proved it. Jack Clarke had lost it on the downward swoop of Sheene Curve going into the barrier and knocking his rear wheels off, one bounced into the track and Henry was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as it bounced just high enough to strike the drivers Helmet. Instantly knocked out by the impact, Surtees was doing an estimated 120mph and at this point his car went straight on into the barriers.
Early investigations show that the contact with the barriers had no effect on the outcome and that the fatal blow had already happened a few seconds before. Then today as if any proof was needed that this sport is still dangerous Massa had a terrifying accident when a spring that Brawn GP had shed clipped Massa on the helmet at around 150 -170 mph. Once again a car carrying its unconscious driver smashed into the barrier. Once again the damage had already been done before the car had hit anything. The only luck being it did not hit the drivers visor full on but still Massa suffered skull fractures.
Now we are at a point where questions are being asked. Is F1 safe? No. It is safer but never safe. Here we are asking questions about the sportâ€”what can be done to prevent this? That is practically impossible.
The simple reason is that unless you have the powers of God, both incidents happened in the first few seconds of something going wrong. In both incidents the object had just come away from the car and was still bouncing. In neither case was debris run over and flicked up into the air so a safety car to remove debris is useless, as the accident would have already happened.
With nothing being able to be sorted thereâ€”now what? Anything else that would need to be done could fundamentally alter single seater racing. In the Surtees accident the run off area was not as much as other tracks but then it is unusual to have accidents there, the weather was also in play as it was a damp track in places. So are we now to make every single circuit have massive run off areas everywhere? So thatâ€™s done then, and then you of course have to ban every street track in the world because if any track has the danger of something bouncing back on the racing line itâ€™s a tight narrow track like Monaco or Macau.
What can we do with the cars then? I am not sure how much lower you can sit the driver because he has to be able to see the track, its at the limit as it is in F1 because the drivers cant see the front wing anyway as it is. That leaves closing the cockpit entirely. Problem solved? No that just creates a big a problem as it solves because in an accident where the car flips and the driver is left trapped upside down how do you suppose we get them out quickly? And in the almost non-existent threat of fire in F1 thatâ€™s not as much a risk. Then again next year cars will have full race fuel as pit stops are banned adding to the risk. Yes it would take a freak occurrence but then so are these two accidents we are looking at right now. With sports cars a door is built in as they are designed like that. Single sweaters are not and altering them would just make tem into sports cars anyway because surely it would effect the impact zones of the chassis so are we going to get rid of single seaters all together? No of course not that is drastic beyond belief.
Steve Matchett wrote in his book the â€œmechanics taleâ€ he disagreed with the banning of electronics in F1 and that the ultimate f1 car would drive itself and not need a driver. That would be every problem solved in F1 right now! F1 would be the pinnacle of technology again no driver would be killed or injured as they are not in the car and technology is king! No of course not. Because we want driver skill to matter to do that we might as well just have the championship sorted on playstations forgetting the fact that the cost involved would be mad and destroy all other lower tiers of motor sport it is simply just machines and soulless.
And that is the key here. Motor racing after all of the politics is woman or man and machine dancing a car around at dangerous speeds all to go that bit faster to be the fastest to shave a tenth of a second, a blink of an eyes worth of time to be top. And with that comes the danger. Yes this month has been horrible for motor sport and it has shaken people up including myself. Someone some where came up with the horrible saying â€œthings come in threesâ€ A saying I have never like and the race at Hungary on Sunday almost tempted this, Vettel felt the back end of his car had gone in similar circumstances like Rubens Barrichelloâ€™s the previous day and Alonsoâ€™s wheel coming off the car I was sweating praying no one would hit it. It was the most horrible tense moment for a long time and I actually found myself not enjoying F1 expecting to see a car come and repeat Surtees accident. Luckily it passed without incident and no one else was hurt.
So where does this leave us? I think the biggest problem here is that we have become complacent that drivers no longer get hurt in F1. Itâ€™s been so long since 1994 and those events. As Niki Lauda said â€œGod took his hand off F1 that weekendâ€. Now I am no expert in the science of these thing and im sure there are people out there now studying these incidents and have thought of a way we havenâ€™t to avoid this happening again. But this month the luck ran out. It ran out for Henry Surtees. Massa however whilst very unfortunate to be at that point at that time it was also fortunate that the spring did not hit his visor full on. Marshalls and Medics were on the scene within seconds and Massa was being flown to the hospital to be operated on 22 minuets after he had hit the barrier. Put that into the world outside of motor sport. Motor sport is no doubt safer than it was but it will never be safe. And for us as humans thatâ€™s one thing we donâ€™t like to accept, we can prepare and protect for every circumstance we can thing of. But sometimes a billion to one chance can happen. The drivers know this every time they step into the car and when they cant accept this they stop.
Formula1blog.com extends its deepest sympathies to the Surtees family and wishes Massa a full and speedy recovery from his injuries. I do hope that some kind of solution is found. But also that it does not alter the fabric of single seater open cockpit racing. Motor sport had made so many great advances in the years since drivers found it was safer to be thrown out the car rather than stay in as it smashed into a tree. But it will never find a way to stop that one in a billion chance but when that does happen it has the means to deal with it even as the car is coming to a stand still to give the best medical care out there.