Lauda on Le Mans: “That so few (deaths) have occurred, is a miracle.” Link to original article in German.
Niki Lauda speaks about danger in motor sports, the Le Mans tragedy and how it relates to Formula One. And he explains, why he never took part in the French classic.
After the deadly accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend Niki Lauda said that danger exists in motor sports and everyone who participates must be aware of it. The Austrian spoke on ORF (Austrian Public Broadcasting) “of this lethargy” that comes when nothing happens, and then the shock when, as was seen, an accident occurs. He compared the situation from last weekend to Formula One. Moreover, the 64-year-old, explained why he never raced at Le Mans: because of the risk.
The danger at Le Mans is already well understood. In 90 years of racing, over 100 deaths have occurred at the French classic. Last weekend Allan Simonsen joined that sad list. The Dane is the first death since Sebastion Enjolras was killed in pre-qualifying for the 1997 event. The last driver killed in the actual race was Jo Gartner back in 1986. After so much time, and so many thousands of miles driven without a fatal accident it could be concluded that Le Mans has become a pretty safe race.
“You get comfortable with that and forget what can happen. Namely, just what has happened at Le Mans.” countered Lauda in the ORF program and he made the comparison “Even in Formula One that’s so.” The last two fatal accidents to kill a driver in F1 occurred on the same “Black Weekend” in Imola 1994, when Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was killed on Saturday, followed by Ayrton Senna on Sunday.
Lauda Remembered His Time in Racing
“Auto racing is done at high speed and everyone is trying to beat everyone else, trying to win. That’s reality in motor sport.” Lauda continued, drawing a comparison to his own career: “Thank God, there are fewer incidents today than when I raced. There were no safety arrangements.” It’s hard to imagine how a driver could deal with the situation in the cockpit, actually focused on the race, and a few yards away seeing a colleague in a serious accident, to know that it could be life or death, and know that he must keep going.
From the driver’s point of view, the three time world champion reported, “naturally you were involved with it all.” “Today in the media environment more or less, but you must ask the team directly, because you see it” he explained further “When such a bad accident occurs it is an unbelievably difficult situation that you have to come to grips with.” The Austrian had to battle with his own almost fatal accident at the Nordschleife and so he knows what he is speaking of.
“In my time it was so brutal that one out of sixteen drivers would die every year. When you are doing that, you start to do the calculations. That means, the stress was intrinsically higher, and you were constantly confronted with it. Also when you experience that, that someone has an accident in front of you, like what happened to me for example,” remembered Lauda, he emphasized, “I’m sure many wake up from the habit of thinking that nothing bad can happen.”
Despite the Accident at Le Mans the Race Continued
Nevertheless, the Mercedes-Director stated: “This lethargy will return when nothing happens and then again naturally everyone will be very shocked. Only: you have to be aware, when you are involved in auto racing that this is a part of it.” he reemphasized again the danger of racing.
It was reported the family of Simonsen asked Aston Martin to not pull out of the race at Le Mans. Also, the death was announced during the race over loudspeakers at the track. Naturally that could be discussed, whether it was the right thing to do or not. Lauda said he agreed: it was right to continue the race, “because otherwise it would be too difficult”, he said. When the debris from the accident could be cleared and the area brought back to racing standards “then most races would be restarted,” said Lauda.
Too Much Risk at Le Mans for Lauda
“You must know what you are doing here,” Lauda restated. “To think you can be in auto racing and nothing is going to happen is false.” Lauda could never get excited for participating at Le Mans and he explained, “the problem at Le Mans that really stopped me from participating was the danger of professional drivers, driving full blown racing cars that can reach almost 225mph, against basically amateurs in street cars.”
Just two examples from many are the 2011 accidents survived by Audi works drivers Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller (links to short videos of both accidents to show how lucky both drivers were) bad injuries after accidents with slower GT class cars. The Briton crashed so badly into the tire wall that debris from the accident rained down on spectators. “The speed difference, day and night, professionals versus amateurs: that is definitely the biggest danger” is Lauda’s opinion of Le Mans. In closing he added, “That so little has happened is virtually a miracle.”
Original article written by Christian Schrader, any errors or ommissions in the translaton are completely down to the Jester’s poor German skills. Corrections welcome and accepted.