NEWS FEATURE

Safety in Formula 1

When there are big accidents everyone wants to find someone to blame and the governing body of the sport is an easy target.

But the FIA has done a great deal to slow down the cars and one of the reasons things were not done faster was because of the opposition to change from the teams, protected by the Concorde Agreement, which means that changes cannot be made without unanimous agreement of the teams.

The FIA has also achieved a great deal in terms of safety in the last 15 years. Until Imola there had not been a fatal accident in a Formula 1 car since Elio de Angelis was killed testing at Paul Ricard in 1986.

That is a record of which FIA president Max Mosley feels very proud and he has no intention of taking criticism about the FIA's attitude to safety lying down.

"On the basis of the current information it is a fact that Imola was just bad luck. There were no new element which explains these accidents. If you have five plane crashes all with the same type of plane the immediate thought is 'Do they have a common cause?' And if they do you have to ground the planes until you put it right.

"But each of the Imola accidents had a completely different cause. In one case (Senna's) we don't know exactly what caused it, but it wasn't the same thing that caused the others."

Mosley gets angry when he hears that past champions such as Alain Prost and Niki Lauda are criticizing the FIA, saying that money dictates the rules and that the FIA is being run by old men who have never sat in a racing car.

"It's absolute rubbish," he says. "Money doesn't come into it. Obviously it is a big money sport, but the technical and sporting rules we are talking about are not influenced in any way by money.

"They say all this stuff about people never having sat in a racing car. The sort of cars I sat in were infinitely more dangerous than these and, when you get to places like where the Senna or Ratzenberger accidents happened, they were not much lower. The sort of car I used to drive could reach 170mph at Hockenheim, which is about 20mph slower than Senna's crash. We had no downforce and no guardrails. If you made a mistake you went straight into a pine forest. We were sitting in a thing like a bicycle frame with petrol tank on either side. And there wasn't the slightest chance of those tanks standing up to a crash. Fire was a real hazard then.

"I was at Hockenheim when Jim Clark died. In fact I was about 200 yards behind him. Of the 21 people on that grid on April 7 1968 - which was my first F2 race - three were dead by August: Jim Clark, Chris Lambert and Jo Schlesser. It is outrageous that someone like Prost should come along, having earned millions driving very safe cars and speak like that about someone like me who did it for nothing - in fact, paid to do it - and drove extremely dangerous cars."

Mosley says the FIA is always trying to improve safety.

"We live with it morning, noon and night and we are working on it all the time, particularly in rallying. But out of the blue there's an accident and the cretins suddenly wake up to the fact that motor racing is dangerous."

Nevertheless he admits that he was surprised by the massive media coverage which resulted from Ayrton Senna's death.

"It wiped everything off the front pages - even the South African elections - in every country int he world. 'That was a shock. It was the first time for an awfully long time since motor racing has lost a driver of that status at the peak of his career, the first since Clark in 1968. Since then the sport has gone from being a major event into - behind the Olympics and World Cup Football - the biggest media sport in the world. That was why it was such a world story. I don't think we realise how important motor sport is until something like this happens."

But what does Mosley say to his critics who say that the changes introduced in Monaco were an over-reaction.

"There is always the risk in a complicated technological sport that you will makes things worse not better. We are very confident that we are not going to make things worse. You cannot deal with a high technology sport by shooting form the hip, by taking quick simple measures - however popular they might be - because you will not solve the problem and you may even be making it far worse than it was at the beginning.

"The time has come, given the gravity of the situation and the force of public opinion, to do what is right in the interests of the sport."

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