SEPTEMBER 3, 2001
Burti survival another endorsement for F1 safety standards
LUCIANO BURTI's terrifying high speed accident in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix served as a heartening reminder of the progress which continues to be made behind the scenes on motor racing safety.
Time was when - to put it starkly - one wouldn't have hurried to look at an accident scene like Burti's on Sunday. A generation ago, the car would have almost certainly been consumed amidst a fearsome inferno and the driver would have instantly been beyond help. In 1960 at the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit, two British drivers - Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed over the Belgian GP weekend - while two more, Stirling Moss and Michael Taylor, were badly injured. Different times, different perspectives.
Yet life moved on. Drivers raced, drivers got killed. That was the way of things. One no more questioned that apparent reality than one doubted the sun rose in the east. The notion of reconciling motor racing with safety seemed incomprehensible. Piers Courage, who was killed at Zandvoort driving Frank Williams's de Tomaso in the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix, once remarked to his father "Dad, you had the war."
That mind-set seems as far away from today's techno-professionals as it's possible to be. When, in the 1960s, Jackie Stewart started the crusade for safety in motor racing he was absolutely vilified. Many regarded him as a namby-pamby heretic, tampering with the sport's sacred values. But Stewart explained that he was being paid to display his skill, not to risk his life unnecessarily. And the key word here is "unnecessarily."
Grand Prix racing will never be totally safe. Keeping the kinetic energy generated by a speeding racing car within tolerable boundaries will always be an extremely difficult task. When Michael Schumacher crashed during testing at Monza a couple of months ago, Ferrari Technical Director Ross Brawn admitted that if Michael had been in the same car as he'd crashed at Silverstone in 1999, he might well have been injured.
For Luciano Burti, those two additional years of impact-resistance development and all-round safety improvements may have made the difference between life and death.