MAY 2, 2006
The question of safety
It is 12 years yesterday since Ayrton Senna became the last F1 driver to die in an accident. It is five years since the death of a trackside marshal during the Australian Grand Prix. This is a great safety record for F1 but, quite rightly, the FIA continues to look at ways to maintain and improve safety standards in Grand Prix racing, because there will always be violent accidents when cars are driven to the absolute limit.
Formula 1 is the most visible part of motorsport but increasingly it seems that rallying needs more attention from the motorsports authorities because of a spate of accidents which have resulted in several deaths and injuries in recent road rallies. Controlling safety in rallying is a much more difficult task than in F1 and much has already been done by the FIA to try to reduce the dangers involved but obviously more needs to be done to avoid further problems and the major fear is that sooner or later a car is going to go into the crowd and there will be a major accident with global ramifications. Last weekend in Tasmania a car went into a group of spectators during a stage of the Targa Tasmania held in the Hobart Domain. The event is a tarmac rally with competitive stages on closed roads for touring, sports and GT cars of various vintages, including modern high performance machinery. It was won this year by multiple Bathurst winner and Australian Touring Car Champion Jim Richards at the wheel of a twin turbo Porsche GT2. The event saw a Mini Cooper crewed by Japan's Nob Ikeda and Shoichi Shibue go out of control and run into a group of spectators who were sitting beside the road in camping chairs. Three men were taken to hospital, two of them with serious injuries.
Back in Europe there were three fatal accidents over the weekend in major rallies with the Granite City Rally in Scotland being called off after the death of driver Graham Lewis. He was standing by his broken-down vehicle in a forest in Aberdeen when he was hit by another rally car. There was also another significant accident in the AvD-Sachsen-Rallye, a round of the Deutschen Rallye Serie, the German national rally championship, which claimed the lives of driver David Langheinrich and his co-driver Oliver Bleich when their 1.1-litre Trabant went off and hit a tree near the city of Zwickau, in the eastern part of the country. In addition the driver and co-driver of a Peugeot 306 Coupe were killed on the Rallye National Automobile de Lozere when their vehicle went out of control and crashed into a ravine.
The crashes come in the wake of two WRC deaths in the last seven months: the first in September last year claimed the life of co-driver Michael Park was killed on the Rally of Britain when the car in which he was travelling hit a tree. A few weeks ago a second WRC co-driver died on the Catalunya Rally. Jorg Bastuck died when hit by another competitor while he was changing a wheel on his car.
Rallying may have a lower profile than Formula 1 but action is clearly needed to try to reduce the problem and there are some in F1 who would argue that the FIA should be using all its energy in this respect rather than spending time arguing over the rules and regulations of F1 in 2008 and beyond. That may not be fair but that does not mean it is not happening.
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