In motorsport, danger always lurks
The past 10 days have been one of the most tragic in the history of motorsport. On October 16, former IndyCar series champion and Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died in a crash during a race at Las Vegas. Before anyone could recover from the shock of the 33-year-old Wheldon's death, came the shattering news about the death of 24-year-old MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli who succumbed to injuries after a horrific crash during the Malaysian GP two days ago. The fact that these two tragédies took place in different disciplines is a stark reminder that all forms of motor racing (including Formula One), despite its glamour, money and flamboyance, have an inherent element of danger associated with it.
Formula One has had its share of tragedies on the track. Perhaps, the sport's darkest period in recent times was during the 1994 San Marino GP when Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger and the legendary Ayrton Senna died during that ill-fated racing weekend. The deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna led to an overhaul of safety measures at the track, in the car and driver's protection gear.
Some of the measures included reducing speed limit in the pitlane to 80 kph, making crash tests stricter, reducing engine capacity, installation of data recorders in the cars to determine the nature of accidents, enlargement of drivers' cockpit, introduction of head and neck device etc.
It is these and many such important safety practices that have ensured that Senna remained the last Formula One driver to have died on track. The improved safety measures have ensured that drivers, like Robert Kubica at the 2007 Canadian GP , have walked away with minor injuries despite involved in huge crashes.
Yet, at the same time, there is always scope for making the sport more safe and that there is only enough that the prevailing safety measures can do. This was was demonstrated by the freakish accident that Ferrari driver Felipe Massa was involvd in at the 2009 Hungarian GP. During the Saturday qualifying of the 2009 Hungarian GP, a spring came off from the back of Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP car and struck Massa on the helmet. The Ferrari driver was knocked unconscious and his car crashed into a tyre wall. Though Massa recovered from the skull fracture he had suffered as a result of the spring's impact, the first couple of days after the accident had everyone on the edge. This incident demonstrated how difficult it is to predict dangers when you are driving at close to 300 kph.
Double world champion Sebastian Vettel had himself remarked a couple of days ago about the nature of motorsport. "The bottom line is what we do might not be the safest so there is always some risk but we are ready to take that into account because we love racing and we love motor sports and it is dangerous," he has been quoted as saying.
He also said that the process of improving safety measures should continue all the time. ''The last couple of years we've had some big crashed and luckily no big injuries or worse than that. We should never give up on trying to make racing safer in general,'' he had remarked.
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