The danger of the Melbourne Coroner's Report

Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Australian GP 2001

Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Australian GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

THE report of the Victorian State Coroner Graeme Johnstone into the death of marshal Graeme Berveridge in an accident during last year's Australian GP was a controversial document, ruling as it did that the accident was "avoidable". Johnstone blamed the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and its associated bodies saying that the organization "failed to satisfactorily manage the risk to marshals created by gaps in the debris fence" despite being aware of what he called "the gap issue".

It is no great secret that all motor racing accidents are avoidable. One could have fences 60ft high and there would still the possibility of a wheel being launched into the air off the nose of another car and ending up in the crowd. That happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1987 when a wheel from Tony Bettenhausen's March bounced into the path of Roberto Guerrero's March and was launched it high into the air. A spectator was killed.

The chances of it happening are tiny but, in the world according to Johnstone, the organizers of a race must know that such a possibility exists and so should have fencing over the top of the circuit as well. That, of course, would create the potential for other avoidable accidents as if a wheel hit this overhead fencing and then bounced back and killed another driver it would have been an avoidable incident.

The only way to avoid the possibility of anyone getting killed is not to hold races.

Johnstone's ruling is therefore a highly dangerous document. The Beveridge Family could now decide to use the findings as the basis of a law suit against the organizers and all those involved in the event. If that were to happen everyone involved would, quite rightly, question whether it was worth being involved in such an enterprise given the risks involved. Melbourne could thus lose the Grand Prix - its best promotional tool.

F1 has done a great deal to help Melbourne get rid of its image of being dull and undynamic. The F1 circus is very fond of the city but the sport has proved many times in the past that it will pack up and go elsewhere if the local authorities behave in an unacceptable manner.

Johnstone's comments were not intended to do any damage but could end up destroying the event. That would have a huge effect on the local economy and, because the race is funded by the local government, could end up wasting a lot of taxpayers money.

The ruling clearly annoyed the FIA which replied waspishly that the local police and the coroner should concentrate their efforts on reducing local road accident statistics.

Although it was a petulant response, the FIA does have a point.

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