With seemingly no-one noticing, the pinnacle of motor sport has achieved a new safety record – the highest number of full seasons without a driver fatality during a Formula One Grand Prix race.
After Interlagos 2006, the last race of the season, it had been twelve full seasons since the last driver was killed in a Formula One race. That sad day was 1 May 1994, when the great Ayrton Senna was killed at Imola in what is widely considered one of the saddest days in Formula One history.
Before that, the last driver killed during an F1 race was Ricardo Paletti, who died in a startline incident during the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal on 13 May 1982. A far more famous death during the 1982 season was that of then-championship leader Gilles Villeneuve in a fiery crash at Zolder on 8 May – but Gilles died during practice, not in a race.
Subsequently, Elio de Angelis was killed at Paul Ricard, France on 15th May 1986 – but also during testing, and let us not callously forget Roland Ratzenberger’s death in testing at Imola one day before Senna’s end.
Subsequent to Senna’s death, The FIA formed the Expert Advisory Group to examine and recommend car and circuit safety, becoming directly involved in research and development of race car technology for the first time. Safety measures took a giant leap then and have seen incremental improvements ever since.
There have been serious injuries since of course – most notably Karl Wendlinger in Monaco 1994 resulting in an extended coma and Mika Hakkinen in 1995 resulting in doctors telling the Finn he’d never race again – but never again has a racer died.
Let us hope it stays this way.
Edu de Jager