Sunday, 26 July 2009

In Motorsport this week...

Normally I wouldn't think this was the right place to comment on motorsport. This is a blog about, er, Audi A2 ownership? but... F1 pilot, Felipe Massa's lying in a doctor induced coma, Formula motorsport is in shock.

A freak accident in which a F2 car crashed lightly into a barrier forcing one of it's wheels free claimed the life of Henry Surtees. The wheel bounced back onto the track in to the path of the oncoming Surtees driven car, striking him on the head with force enough to prove his helmet wearing near useless. An accident like this hasn't happened in open top racing for a large number of years, and to claim a life in this way is so rare, not seen since Markus Höttinger's death in 1980. Then, within a space of 6 days, a spring from the rear suspension of Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP F1 car worked itself loose, to hit Felipe Massa's passing Ferrari, impacting him on the front left of his crash helmet. Compared to the Surtees incident, Massa was lucky as the weight and angle of the impact was lighter and less direct to the spine. Felipe had this happen to him in the end of 2nd practice in qualifying at the Hungaroring, near Budapest, Hungary. Then next day in the race there, another freak incident in a pitstop caused Fernando Alonso's Renault to lose a front right wheel, resulting in it working free, to bounce in this case, harmlessly into a barrier before coming to a rest off track. Also in the race, Sebastien Vettel's RedBull Renault F1 car breaks it's suspension in a way reminiscent of Barrichello's car the day before. However only shards of carbon fibre broke off, lying flat off the racing line, with no other driver being affected. RedBull claim a front suspension fault, completely unrelated to the Brawn GP incident.

It is strange in motorsport for freak breakages and accident to be mirrored so closely. It hasn't happened since the dreadful weekend at Imola for the F1 San Marino GP of 1994. That weekend, three similar accidents claimed the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, with Rubens Barrichello hospitalised. Although Senna's death was caused by a steering and suspension failure and the other two by driver error, death and serious injury was becoming a distant memory in the top levels of motorsport at the time. Which is very much how Henry Surtees' death is met by today's motorsport community.

Where we can take heart is in how Massa survived the impact his Ferrari sustained after he was rendered unconscious by the suspension debris. As yet, the speed in which he hit the tyre crash wall has not been made public, however, from onboard footage, it is clear that it was at a significant speed. Yet apart from the head injury caused by the spring to his head, Felipe suffered no other injuries. The car behaved extremely well under force. As driver's safety cell stayed intact; Massa's legs did not break, unlike Michael Schumacher's in a similar impact at Silverstone for the British GP in 1999. Plus, there is no direct neck injury caused by stopping into the crash wall. This is, in part, thanks to the innovative HANS device worn by all top level drivers to eliminate neck breakage in such a high speed impact.

Hopefully motorsport has endured the last of these freakish accuracies of the past week. There is always a risk involved in all kinds of motor racing but drivers are more vulnerable in open top Formula races. Yet the resulting crash suffered but Massa after the head injury proves that technology and Jackie Stewart's safety revolution has helped in significant ways to to make it many times safer than it was in Henry Surtees' father; John and in Jackie's time at the wheel. For which all racing car driver's take a small piece of reassurance from.

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