If you were following the qualifying session for the Grand Prix of Monaco this morning you’ll know that Sauber driver Sergio “Checo” Perez has had a very big accident in Q3 near the exit of the tunnel. He was taken to hospital where he’s been diagnosed with only a concussion and a thigh sprain, which will keep him out of the race tomorrow, but I think it’s absolutely remarkable that in the past couple of years we’ve had only two accidents in qualifying which resulted in racers being kept out of the Sunday race, with the last one being Jarno Trulli’s accident in Suzuka in 2009, in which Jarno suffered a cut to his leg which also kept him out of the following race in Brazil and which catapulted Toyota reserve driver Kamui Kobayashi to a regular F1 drive (coincidentally also with Sauber).
Anyway, the point is that for all the inherent danger in driving a car at up to 300 kph the sport of Formula One has become incredibly safe. The last driver fatality in F1 goes all the way back to 1994, and that death (Ayrton Senna’s) so shocked the world of racing that it put the focus of the sport on safety. Nowadays all cars are subject to rigorous crash testing to ensure that the monocoque can stand up to exactly the kind of accident that we saw today, and there’s no doubting the effectiveness of these measures. Prior to the race following the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix the cockpits were so low you could see the drivers’ shoulders as they drove past, wheels and suspension bits would just break free from cars on impact, the HANS system did not even exist, and drivers raced around circuits which were sometimes surrounded by nothing but bare concrete walls. These were all factors in Senna’s death. The pit lane didn’t even have any speed limit at the time (leading to yet another accident after that race was restarted).
So sometimes if you catch yourself thinking that the FIA puts too much emphasis on safety, be thankful that it’s been a long while since anyone’s seen his or her idol die on race weekend of some stupidly preventable cause. These safety measures are there for a reason. I’m sure that Checo and his father (who was at the track this morning) feel that way also.