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AUGUST 13, 2001

Melbourne cleared by FIA safety report

THE organizers of the Australian Grand Prix look set to be officially absolved of responsibility for the accident in this year's race which resulted in a track marshal being killed by flying debris.

According to sources in Melbourne, motor racing's governing body has concluded that a freak set of circumstances resulted in the death of Graham Beveridge who was hit by a wheel following a collision between two competitors early in the race.

Beveridge, a 52-year old volunteer official, was killed just six months after his Italian contemporary Paolo Ghislimberti died under almost identical circumstances in the 2000 Italian grand prix at Monza.

However, the FIA itself had no formal comment on the question of whether a confidential report has cleared the organizers and promoters of any responsibility.

"We have heard the reports to the effect that the FIA is discharging the circuit of all blame," said spokesman Francesco Longanesi yesterday. "However, I personally have not seen the report, so I am not in a position to confirm or deny the outcome."

In Melbourne, Tim Schenken, who acts as clerk of the course for the Australian grand prix, said he had no knowledge of a confidential report from the FIA.

Nevertheless, sources close to the FIA pointed out that if there had been any question of blaming the organizers for the tragedy, it is likely they would have been summoned to the governing body's world council meeting in June. No such summons was made.

The tragedy at Melbourne was triggered when Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda was launched into a crazy flight after it ran into the back of Ralf Schumacher's Williams-BMW at around 170mph under braking for the third turn as they battled for sixth place on the fifth lap of the race.

The Canadian driver's machine came within an ace of clearing the double-height spectator fence, but fortunately finished its crazy flight embedded in a gravel trap. Beveridge was killed by a flying wheel which, by cruel chance, managed to sneak through a tiny access aperture in the sturdy chain link fencing.

It is believed that publication of the report into the accident has been deferred until the formal inquest on Beveridge's death has taken place in the state of Victoria, where he lived.