That Sao Paulo crash...

It probably seems rather harsh that Eddie Irvine was blamed for the huge four-car smash in Brazil and has been banned for three Grands Prix. I was not at all surprised - and I'll tell you why.

But first, let's get some facts clear because everyone has a different view of what happened. Reports have varied in their accuracy. This is what I saw: Martin Brundle, Eddie Irvine and Jos Verstappen were fighting for position and lapping Eric Bernard. Brundle was slightly ahead and had passed Bernard as they hurtled down the fastest part of the circuit - at 180mph - and into the left-handed Descido do Lago.

Brundle suddenly lost drive - the result of a transmission failure - and slowed down. Bernard backed off. Behind the Ligier Irvine and Verstappen were fighting, with Verstappen looking for a way past Irvine on the left. Irvine jerked left causing Verstappen to swerve to avoid him. The Dutchman's left-hand wheels went onto the grass and the car snapped back to the right and smashed into Irvine's Jordan. The two cars then hit Brundle's McLaren. At this point Bernard turned right to avoid the crash and spun down the grass without hitting any cars or walls. His car was undamaged.

It was a different story for the others: Verstappen's car flipped, its right rear wheel hitting the McLaren's cockpit surround, clipping Brundle's helmet.

It is not Fleet Street hyperbole to say that Martin missed being killed by just a couple of inches. I believe that it is this fact - and Irvine's attitude to it - which caused the FIA to punish Eddie so severely.

Would people be saying a three-race ban was unfair if Martin Brundle was dead?

I believe that F1 people no longer treat death with the respect it deserves. No-one has been killed driving in a Grand Prix since 1982 - 12 years. This is testament to the wonderful safety of today's machinery, but it means that there is complacency. People think you can survive anything. And if you look back five years there have been some pretty impressive escapes: Gerhard Berger survived his huge shunt and fire at Imola in 1989; Martin Donnelly survived his car falling apart at Jerez in 1990; Christian Fittipaldi survived flipping at top speed at Monza last year and Alessandro Zanardi escaped a high-speed head-on into the wall at Spa. And so it goes on. Everyone survives.

F1 folk complain that cars are being slowed down too much; that race tracks are boring because all the challenging corners have been changed for safety reasons, but the changes are probably worth it.

I will always remember talking to the late Denny Hulme on the subject of safety.

"We didn't know any better in the old days," said Denny. "Now we've got the most incredibly hygienic circuits you have ever seen. Some people criticize them. They say it's terribly boring motor racing. Yes, compared to the old Nurburgring it is, but it's better than going to a funeral every Tuesday morning."

The younger generations of drivers - the men racing in F1 today - have grown up in relatively safe racing and their respect for the dangers is not the same as their predecessors. They have not been to any Tuesday funerals.

As far as I am concerned Irvine's attitude after the accident was wrong from the start. He was too busy protesting that it was not his fault that he overlooked the fact that his move - for whatever reason he did it - had nearly killed someone. He may have had a point when he said he it was "a racing accident" and maybe he deserved the benefit of the doubt, but he didn't seem shaken by his near-miss or anxious that Brundle was OK.

Drivers say that the press and officials don't knowing what they are talking about and cannot judge how drivers should react in a split-second at 180mph. In some ways this is a valid point, but young cocky drivers should also remember that observers have long memories. Most racing drivers consider that motor racing history began when they first sat in a racing car. I think that if they knew about the past they could learn from it. Few of today's racers will remember - or care - that young Austrian F2 driver Markus Hottinger, was killed at Hockenheim in 1980 - when he was hit on the head by a wheel. Martin Brundle might care to know that.

Irvine reminds me very much of another young wise-cracking Irish talent. His name was Tommy Byrne and, for a brief period in 1982, he was the bright young man of European racing. He dominated British Formula 3 that year - his first in the formula - seeing off the likes of Martin Brundle and Roberto Moreno. By mid-summer he had graduated to F1 before he had even won the British F3 title. He raced for Theodore in Austria and at Las Vegas and was staggeringly quick in a McLaren test, beating F2 stars Stefan Johansson and Thierry Boutsen on the same day.

He had an enormous talent and he knew it. He talked too much and had no respect for anyone and that was his undoing. F1 turned its back on Tommy and he is remembered today only as the man who talked himself out of Grand Prix stardom. Today he races for money in small-time North American events and, no doubt, from time to time, he asks himself what might have been.

Eddie says that he is getting the blame because of his incident with Ayrton Senna last year. That he has been branded a dangerous driver and that there is a silent FIA conspiracy against him.

Oscar Wilde was once asked by another writer how to overcome a conspiracy of silence among book reviewers. Wilde replied: "Join it".

That's good advice for Eddie.

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