MOTOR RACING is dangerous - it always has been and it always will be. The 1904 Paris-Madrid race was halted at Bordeaux because of the casualties among competitors and spectators at a time when 60 m.p.h. was a speed regarded with awe.

Almost 70 years later, the Rothmans Race of Champions ~ was stopped when Jo Siffert crashed and died. Speeds had more than doubled but the risks were still as great and these two extreme examples of the dangers involved in motor racing show that sheer speed is not, in itself, the principal cause of accidents.

Speed is a contributory factor, of course. A mistake of any sort made at 150 m.p.h. is obviously much more difficult to rectify than the same mistake made at 75 m.p.h. but, as speeds increase, so do the safety factors. The giant pre-war racing cars of Mercedes and Auto-Union had engines producing 600 b.h.p. and they were faster than today's F.I cars. This was well before the days of the disc brake and the immense drum brakes of these cars extending to the wheel rims - overheated and lost their stopping powers to the point where the drivers accepted an almost " total lack of braking" powers towards the end of a race.

Another major hazard on the older cars concerned the tyres. With the comparatively large-diameter wheels of the time it was standard practice to experience trouble with the treads being flung off the tyres by centrifugal force. Tyre life was so limited, in fact, that wheel changes were an important part of planning any race and the highly-skilled pit teams of Mercedes in particular established incredible times for changing a car's wheels. And if the cars were potentially more dangerous than they are now, the drivers were certainly more casual about their own safety, It is only within,recent years that drivers have started taking personal safety steps. The great Fangio frequently drove in a short-sleeved shirt and, only towards the end of his career, wore a crash helmet. Stirling Moss found out the hard way ~ that nylon should be the last material to wear in a racing car hecause fire causes the nylon to 'melt inflicting dreadful wounds. Safety straps are recent fittings, as are visors in preference to the goggle.

The 1972 racing driver may bear a marked resemhlance to a spaceman in his outfit hut his chances of survival in a crash -- although slim - are fractionally greater than they used to be. In many ways, it is odd how the dangers of racing were glossed over by drivers. When Dick Seaman crashed in 1939, for example, he was trapped in the blazing cockpit of his car while his valiant rescuers struggled to lift him out from under the steering wheel. If they had known that flicking a simple lever would have released the wheel from the column, then it is likely that Seaman could have heen saved.

If such a condition existed today, a prominent label would draw immediate attention to the quick-release gear. Fire and being trapped are prohably still the most dreaded conditions that can be imagined and an F.I car is still a deathtrap because it is so difficult for a rescuer to pull him free - especially if fire has broken out. While the Graviner built-in extinguishers certainly provide a high degree of safety their range extends only to the car itself. A major smash often results in the fuel tanks breaking, splitting or tearing to allow the petrol to run outside the car and catch fire whereupon the built-in extinguishers have a limited effect.

The appalling fire that broke out when Jack Oliver collided with Jacky Ickx in the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix is a classic example of the terrors of a fire outside the range of the car's extinguishers. By an incredible stroke of luck, both drivers managed to get away from their cars without being badly burned because it was doubtful whether proper fire-fighting facilities could have arrived on the scene in time to help.

It has been suggested that a helicopter equipped with fire-fighting and lifting, gear could fly over the circuit while a race is in progress so it could be at the scene of an accident immediately. There would seem to be a lot in this idea. If such a service had been available at Brands, for example, the helicopter could have been over Jo Siffert's B.R.M. in a matter of seconds to discharge a huge cloud of powder fire-extinguisher over the car to deal with the fire immediately and then lower lifting gear to raise the car enough for the marshal to reach the driver. Siffert might have been saved.

The cost would be high and there are, no doubt, other objections to the idea but the proposal does certainly seem to be well worth looking at in detail. Another suggestion is to have a captive balloon moored over the circuit so that observers in the basket could radio the location of an accident to fire engines, ambulances and rescue vehic1es placed at strategic inervals round the circuit.

As far as the dual purpose of protecting spectators and drivers is concerned, one must look at the 'new' Nurburgring arrangements where trees have been cut down at recognised danger spots and considerable lengths of Armco fencing erected. The cost is reputed to have been in the region of three-quarters of a million pounds but it is hoped to recoup some of this vast expenditure because the fencing arrangements mean that spectators can be organised and, the huge army of enthusiasts that used to watch the racing free of charge will now have to pay.

Whether the numbers of spectators will be as high as they were remains to be seen!

An Armco barrier does, to a large extent, remove the dangers involved in a collision although there is the possibility of the car being flung back on to the track in front of other drivers. This is, however, the lesser of the two evils and any form of safety precaution - no matter how small - is to be applauded.

There are many people who maintain that the safety demands by drivers will reduce the appeal of Grand prix racing but this is a strange argument. Jackie Stewart is one of the drivers making stringent demands for improved safety and he has managed to get a considerable amount of positive work done. And it would be a rash man who declared that F1racing has suffered in any way because of Stewart's demands. And even though safety measures have been stepped up, the risks in motor racing are still as high. What Stewart has done is to eliminate some of the more hazardous and unnecessary dangers.

Those who decry these efforts are suggesting, surely, a return to the chariot races of Imperial Rome where it was freely admitted and understood that the crowds turned up - not to see the racing but to see the accidents. And the more blood that was spilled, the better the crowd was pleased. There can be no doubt that this line of thinking applies to modern race-goers just as much as did to the Romans over 2,000 years ago. Some years ago, one race circuit suffere from a series of major accidents and the gate increased markedly. When the spell of bad luck ended and the accidents did not happen, attendances fell off again.

You can draw your own conclusions from this.

What safety boils down to is quite simple. The drivers have to compete over circuits that do not present unnecessary hazards. There has to be a guarantee that rescue services are on hand to deal with an emergency as soon as possible. Spectators have to be protected from the dangers of a car going out of control.

Crashes 1

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Author: ArchitectPage

Jo Siffert died at Brands Hatch

I was there that day - in the distance we could hear the cars one by one go quiet - the commentary stopped - I felt sick - obviously something terrible had happened. An Ambulance rushed by and we were told the only driver in it was Jo.

Then we started to leave.

We went away quietly with hushed voices. Driving home we heard on the car radio that there had been a fatal accident at Brands Hatch and that Siffert had been killed.

I went to see the skill and the technology - never to see injuries let alone death.