Analysing the Surtees accident

The death of a driver in single-seater racing is now such a rare occurence that it is sometimes assumed that there must be some failing in the safety systems, rather than simply accepting that sometimes things go wrong and it is impossible to ensure the total safety of the drivers.

The death of Henry Surtees in a Formula 2 accident at Brands Hatch has inevitably resulted in questions about safety and as Formula 2 is a new championship it is right to examine the cars and the tracks in detail to see if anything can be done to improve the safety.

"Henry was driving at about 120mph between Westfield and Sheene corners on lap nine of the race when he was struck on the head by a bouncing wheel and tyre from an accident at Westfield corner several seconds earlier," Formula 2 boss Jonathan Palmer said in a statement. "It is clear that Henry was knocked unconscious immediately, and his car then continued straight on, hitting the tyre wall. I understand that the fatal injury occurred instantly and that the impact at Sheene had no influence on the outcome of the accident.

"The race was immediately red flagged and the medical team were very quickly at the scene. Henry was removed from the car, stabilised and taken to the medical centre, where he was prepared to be air-lifted to the Royal London Hospital, the regional trauma centre. After evaluation and investigations in the intensive care unit, Henry was found to have suffered a major head injury that was not survivable.

"We will do everything possible to understand exactly what happened and why, and see what can be learnt from this freak accident in the continual quest to make motor racing safer. It is perhaps ironic that John Surtees competed for many years at the highest levels of motorsport on both four wheels and two at a time when safety was given little consideration, but his son Henry should lose his life at a time when driver safety has never been greater.

"The Williams F1 designed Formula 2 cars comply with the FIA 2005 F1 safety standards, including the fitment of wheel tethers to reduce the risk of wheels coming off in accidents. The F2 car also includes the latest F1 standards of driver head protection with high cockpit sides and lateral deformable structures. As with F1 however, wheel tethers cannot provide an absolute guarantee that a wheel will not come off in an accident and in a single-seater race car the front of the head is inevitably exposed to the risk, however small, of being hit by another car or component."

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Stories: JULY 21, 2009
ANALYSING THE SURTEES ACCIDENT