Italian entrepreneur and racing driver Andrea Mame has died Sunday at Paul Ricard in a Lamborghini Trofeo event.
That sentence won’t appear anywhere in a newspaper in the USA tomorrow. But thanks to the internet and social media, it’s simple to find out who has died or been seriously injured in motorsport this weekend. My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Andrea Mame, but I feel I need to do more than just keep them in my thoughts.
As I write this the F1 British GP is taking place on questionable tires. Three punctures on track and damage to race leader Sebastian Vettel’s tyres forced an extended safety car period, when perhaps the event should have been red flagged for a rethink. But the high stakes involved, the need to keep the executive boxes happy and the money flowing into the F1 coffers, seems to have trumped safety.
The common view towards safety in racing has become a nostalgic complacency. When we look back at the 1970’s we jokingly speak of it as an era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. True, racing was unquestionably more dangerous several decades ago, but that’s no excuse for the complacency plaguing motorsport. The idea that it has become over sanitized: too safe. There is no such thing as too safe.
Not when the stakes are so high. And we’re not just talking about drivers lives but spectators as well, as can be seen from incidents at Daytona and the Isle of Man TT earlier this season. As the linked articles point out, these types of incidence should serve as wake up calls for racing.
I first became aware of the problem with unreported deaths in motorsport when I went to Europe in 1985 to try my luck at racing. I attended the basic Winfield Driving School and lapped the then dilapidated Goodwood circuit in a Formula Ford. But what really got my attention was the weekly death toll reported in my favorite German magazine, Motorsport Aktuelle. It seems that year, a week didn’t go by but that some young driver or rider was killed in karting, motorcycles, rallying, or club racing.
This was brought home to me again when I revisited Germany in 2009 and picked up a copy of the weekly motorsport news, to find an article on the death of Thomas Knopper at the German national karting championships. At the time I was back in kart racing and, since I haven’t raced since, maybe that news was enough to sober up a middle aged father about the risks of being out on the track.
With the recent double accidents at the Isle of Man TT, the death earlier this year of a young (12 year old) motorcycle racer in the USA, two motorcycle racers paralyzed in the last month, the tragedy at Le Mans, the tragedy at Bridgeport, the tragedy at Paul Ricard and some events I’m probably forgetting, I have started waging a public campaign to get the FIA to begin monitoring racing accidents with a complete database of every accident resulting in serious injury across the globe.
This is an excellent first step in reupping the safety crusade, and not surprisingly when I queried a well respected motorsport journalist on ths topic, he asked: what’s the point? The point is…(I thought, fuming) …to make racing safer by studying the ocean of data that is out there after accidents occur.
I was shocked when I attended the IMIS Safety Seminars at Indianapolis last December and discovered that no such database exists.
Today, we have telemetry on practically every aspect of high end motorsport vehicles. Even in club races, most events are captured on video. So, by combining the findings of all serious racing incidents we are bound to come up with better solutions for safety in racing. More data, more studies, more science, makes that virtually inevitable.
One thing that I would strongly oppose however, are knee jerk reactions to accidents at places like LeMans or the Isle of Man TT. Reactions that call for mindless “cut down all the trees” or simply ending the TT solutions. There are too many examples of racing existing in a dangerous world, to make changing the dangerous world a viable option.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from the Jackie Stewart era of safety lobbying, dangerous situations will always exist in racing. I am of the personal opinion, and this is only me (and I have never done this) that a driver sweeping past a farmhouse at the old Spa circuit has a different mentality towards risk, than a young charger who feels overly confident in his safety blasting through Eau Rouge today.
Safer barriers, a trademarked product, now used extensively in oval racing in the USA need to be looked at for more situations. I realize this means high cost retrofitting for dirt tracks around the USA, so I’m not suggesting this be mandated. But if mandated, this would be a far better use for the money pouring into high end racing series like NASCAR and Formula One, than a new $100 million mansion or more executive box seats. Executives, who apparently, can’t be bothered with driver safety as once again tyre safety looms large over Formula One.