SEPTEMBER 11, 2000

Italian F1 races threatened by death of Monza marshal

THE future of Formula 1 in Italy has again been thrown into doubt after the death of a fire marshal during the Italian Grand Prix.

THE future of Formula 1 in Italy has again been thrown into doubt after the death of a fire marshal during the ItalianÊGrandÊPrix. PaoloÊGhislimberti, a 33-year-old Italian from Trento, died after being hit by a flying wheel during an accident on the first lap of the event at Monza. The accident happened at the Roggia chicane when the Jordans of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jarno Trulli tangled with Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari. Behind them Johnny Herbert, Ricardo Zonta and Pedro de la Rosa were involved in an collision as they tried to avoid the wreckage. De la Rosa's Arrows was launched into a violent series of somersaults after running over the back of Herbert's Jaguar.

After the crash an irate Barrichello said that Frentzen was "totally responsible for what happened and should be suspended for at least 10 races".

Barrichello said that he had been overtaking Jarno Trulli's Jordan when the accident occurred and had been braking as late as he could. "It is completely unbelievable that he should think I was braking early. I am very lucky to be alive."

The accident could possibly result in further legal battles in the Italian courts. Soon after the race had ended an Italian investigating magistrate, Dr. Salvatore Bellomo, arrived at Monza and began to analyze what happened in the crash. The five cars involved were impounded and Bellomo interviewed some of those involved.

Article 589 of the Italian penal code, which covers "omocidio colposo" (culpable homicide) allows for a maximum prison sentence of five years for anyone convicted although often the sentences are suspended because there was no intention to kill. Bellomo's investigation may take weeks or months as was the case after the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in May 1994. The investigating magistrate on that occasion Maurizio Passarini took until December 1995 to deliver a 600-page report about Senna's crash to the Italian judiciary. This recommended that Frank Williams, Patrick Head, Adrian Newey plus circuit officials Frederico Bendinelli, Giorgio Poggi and Roland Bruynseraede should face charges. None of them were found guilty.

Such investigations are not new for Monza. In 1981, following an investigation by magistrate Armando Spataro, F1 driver Riccardo Patrese and Gianni Restelli, the starter of the Italian GP were charged with manslaughter in relation to the death at Monza in 1978 of Ronnie Peterson. Both were cleared of the charges in a Milan court later that year.

As a result of the Senna accident the FIA asked that dangerous sports be excluded from criminal law after the Association of European National Olympic Committees held a symposium in Rome to discuss the problem. It was attended by leading sporting administrators and by Italian legal representatives including the presidents of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. It was agreed that the law needed to be changed and a request was made to the Italian government to exclude dangerous sports from criminal law but nothing happened. If charges are brought it is likely that F1 teams will refuse to race in Italy because of the legal risks involved. At the same time there is pressure from some teams to take action at Monza because of track invasion on the slowing down lap as Ferrari fans celebrated Michael Schumacher's victory.