The sixty-six year old question – how safe is Formula 1?
The Formula 1 2016 season won’t be kicking off until the 20th March, when the lights go green in Melbourne for the first Grand Prix of the year. Car manufacturers won’t even be announcing this year’s models for another two weeks, but the anticipation has already kindled in the form of debate. Max Beckett reports.
It was recently reported that F1 drivers are taking a rare opportunity to speak out, calling for an improvement in the quality of head protection within the cockpit and a better standard of tyre. Obviously this is not the first time the safety of an F1 car has been tossed up for debate, so it begs the question: is there still, in 2016, a serious ongoing safety issue in this sport?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Motorsport comes with its fair share of risks. Heavy metallic machinery being driven at hundreds of miles per hour by a human being is dangerous enough, and once you introduce the competition clause the chances of injury skyrockets even further, so it goes without saying that there is a high propensity for potentially fatal mistakes. However, you can also argue that these specific human beings are so well-trained that they are the only ones of a select few in the world trusted enough to even sit in the cockpit in the first place. But even the most proficient of drivers are incapable of escaping acts of God, or Murphy’s Law, for that matter.
For evidence of this look no further than seven years ago, when a suspension spring fell off, Rubens Barrichello’s, Brawn while on a particularly fast straight, and struck a very unprepared Filipe Massa on the head, causing him to crash into a tyre barrier and receive subsequent surgery while in a life-threatening condition. Luckily, Massa was able to recover and carry on racing, but this has not always been the case. Jules Bianchi sadly died in July 2015 at just 25, from head injuries sustained in an accident the previous year. He lost control of his car on extremely slippery road surface because of adverse weather conditions and crashed into a recovery vehicle. Clearly it would be wrong to speculate on such things, but would better head protection have led to Bianchi having a higher chance of survival?
This, along with the sad news of ex-F1 driver Justin Wilson’s passing as a result of similar injuries from a US IndyCar race, has caused F1 drivers to push for better headwear protection for the 2017 season, but too much damage has already been done. Sixty-six years of continuous improvement still hasn’t guaranteed one-hundred percent safety for the drivers, so does the problem lie in the cars, or the sport?
Formula 1 drivers understandably have acknowledged the treachery of their pastime, and there are other extreme sports that carry a similar risk of injury and death, so it can be argued that as long as manufacturers are constantly aiming to improve the safety as well as the performance of the cars, nothing drastic should be done to alter the risk. This is just quite a hard reality to swallow if you have a personally-vested interest in it.