Thursday, 19 April 2012

Safety First

While browsing the BBC website in between revising for my exams today, I came across this video. For those of you who can't see it for whatever reason, it shows the drag racer of Matt Hagan pretty much exploding on the circuit. The explosion looks horrific, however I'm delighted to say that the driver walked away unscathed.

When accidents like this happen, it reminds everyone just how far motorsport has progressed in terms of safety. Formula 1 was once notorious for fatalities; Jackie Stewart stated that there was a 1 in 3 chance of surviving a race. Today, F1 is lucky in that when accidents happen they are rarely life-threatening. The design and technological advancements in the sport are part and parcel of this fact. The regulations in F1 also aim towards driver safety, and now this is a massive priority when designing an F1 car - unlike the old days when casualties were seen as 'just one of those things'. Items such as the HANS device are also vital in protecting the drivers from injury, especially traumatic brain injuries which are common results of motor accidents on the road.

However, as much as safety is emphasised in motorsport of all forms, accidents do still happen and officials within the sport have to remain vigilant. The deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli last year highlighted this fact.

As well as driver safety, it's important to consider the safety of the spectators in the sport. Rallying for example is renowned for its spectator friendly atmosphere, allowing people to get tantalisingly close to the cars. However, while this is a great spectacle and hugely exciting, this isn't risk free and a few weeks ago four spectators were injured while watching a rally in Scotland. Luckily, the four spectators are now recovering, however accidents like this force people to realise how much risk is involved in a sport such as this.

A subject which has been covered endlessly in the past few weeks is the safety of F1's attendance in Bahrain. In my last post, I stressed how the sport should be removed from the political and ethical motives for not attending the race, and said that the only thing that should be really investigated is the safety at the race. Ultimately, the FIA have taken the decision to stage the race, after being assured that it would be safe and not too much different from normal races. However last night it was reported that a Porsche Supercup team, MRS, had withdrawn from the support race due to their own safety concerns. It was also reported today that team members from Force India were caught up in a petrol bomb incident, prompting two team members deciding to return home based on safety grounds. While the attack was not targeted at the F1 team, it does prompt questions to be asked about how safe people will be travelling to and from the circuit, and no doubt the officials in Bahrain will be forced to step up their security to protect those involved in the race weekend.

So safety in motorsport has a range of facets. Ultimately, it could be argued that the people at most risk are the drivers, and it's down to technology and innovation that they are kept safe. However, there are risks for everyone involved in motorsport, whether you're part of a team of just spectating. Of course, nothing is risk free in life, but for something like motorsport the health of everyone involved should always remain a high priority.

I guess that the danger aspect to motorsport is what makes it a thrill for some people. I posted a while back how I don't like people watching races for the crashes - I stand by this post, as I just don't find it exciting to watch people in that level of danger. As the sport progresses and the great thinkers among those involved look at new ways to protect the drivers we would hope that the risk of injury is decreased. Motorsport's links to the real world automotive industry also mean that advances in safety are likely to be implemented in real cars - protecting ordinary people in their everyday lives - and that can only be a good thing.