It is obvious from its earliest stages that, although exhilarating and rewarding, anything that involves going that fast for that long is dangerous. And the quicker it gets, the more serious the consequences when it goes wrong.

The racing industry has recently been marred by the deaths of Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli and English IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon. Simoncelli died as a result of losing control of his bike, whereas Wheldon was involved in a 15-car pile up. Both sports have had other fatalities this decade, with MotoGP riders Shoya Tomizawa (2010) and Daijiro Kato (2003), and IndyCar drivers Paul Dana (2006) and Tony Renna (2003) all being killed as the results of accidents.

So how is it then that F1, maybe the world most prestigious racing series, hasn't had a fatal accident since Ayrton Senna in 1994? It's just as fast, and has its fair share of accidents every year, but no one has died in 17 years. Sheer luck?

MotoGP's next most recent death was 1986 when Ivan Palazzese died at the German Grand Prix, and IndyCar's is Scott Brayton in 1996, so it's not like the amount of deaths is that far apart, but it is amazing that F1 has gone so long without a tragedy.


There are many things that are designed to make sure F1 drivers are as safe as they can be, as can be seen on their online safety section. The helmets are made of carbon fibre over Kevlar, while head and neck supports are made of carbon fibre to reduce impact forces on the driver during a collision. Racesuits are made of Nomex fibre to be as flame retardant as possible, including flame retardant zips, thread, balaclavas, boots and gloves. Shoulder handles are designed so that a driver and his seat can be lifted out 'as one' by marshals to reduce further injuries after a crash.

The cars are also designed to protect the driver as much as possible. They are engineered to have 'crumple zones' that deform on impact to send force around the driver, with the inner shell of the cockpit lined with Zylon to prevent any splinters from entering the cockpit. Simple things such as the six-point harness and a fire extinguisher system, which can be operated manually by the driver or the marshals, all add to the safety measures. The cars even have on board monitors that can inform medical personnel how severe impacts are.

The governing body is also very hard-nosed when it comes to track safety. Any circuit wishing to stage a race must past very high safety regulations, to ensure the safety of the drivers, pit crews and spectators. Asphalt run-off areas and 25cm deep gravel traps are used to stop an out of control car. There is a marshal and a fire extinguisher on both sides of the track every 300m, and the medical help available is staggering.

All races have:
o Four salvage cars equipped with cutting tools and fire extinguishers, and are capable of towing cars.
o Two rescue cars with four paramedics and a doctor, which can reach any part of the track in 30 seconds
o A medical centre with resuscitation equipment, an operating theatre, a anaesthesiologist, an orthopaedic surgeon and six paramedics.
o Two medical helicopters
o Four ambulances

All of these safety features go along way towards making F1 safe for everyone involved. And it's not like it hasn't been tested recently. Both Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica have both been in major accidents in the past few years, and both survived what could have been fatal collisions.


As outlined here, the primary features of the F1 helmet and suit are present in MotoGP, such as Kevlar on the helmet and built in neck and chest supports. The biggest difference is the clothes are made of kangaroo leather, not the Nomex fibre, and the riders have built in knee sliders for when they touch the asphalt during cornering.

Each track also has an on-site medical centre, fully equipped to deal with emergencies injuries. However, MotoGP is more dangerous than F1 and IndyCar because of the face that the bike offers much less protection to the rider than a car does. In a collision in F1, the car is designed to reduce damage, and also acts as a shell to protect the driver if the car starts to roll. On a bike, unless you are very lucky, you are likely to get hit by the oncoming bike, and the bike can offer little in the way of protection. You are also thrown from the bike, resigned to taking the damage with only your leathers to protect you.


Again, IndyCar features pretty similar clothes and helmet designs to F1, and tracks have been designed to be safer, with new energy absorbing barriers being introduced in 2003, using a combination of steel and foam to better protect the cars and drivers that hit them. Also, in light of Dan Wheldon's death, IndyCar's President of Operations, Brian Barnhart, announced that the sport will introduce more advanced track testing techniques, that will 'identify the overall track geometry at any track where we are looking to run IndyCars to come up with the best understanding of the aerodynamic package, the technical specifications to allow us to race there as well as we possibly can'.

This is sure to help improve the chances of avoiding another pile-up. When Wheldon died at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he was one of 34 cars crammed onto the 1.5 mile long oval racetrack (the conditions had been complained about by the drivers prior to the race). In comparison, the British F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone involves 24 drivers racing over three miles, allowing them to spread out more. So could it simply be the layout of the track that makes IndyCar more dangerous?

There's no shortage of safety aspects for the protection of drivers in all three sports so, again, is it just sheer luck that F1 has a spotless record over the last 17 years? Rob Wilkins of thinks luck certainly plays a part.

'There is no denying F1 does have a good record since those tragic events in May '94," he said, "The sport has made many steps forward since, with HANS, improved safety at circuits and improvements to the cars all springing to mind. I think it is worth remembering though that the sport is always inherently dangerous.

"It is also worth recalling that luck plays a part too, whether it is F1, MotoGP or IndyCar. Think of Felipe Massa's accident - that could have had a very different outcome. Thankfully it didn't, but it shows why safety must keep being looked at, even in F1, where it seems to be safer, or at least on the surface."

(C) Darren Gutteridge, 2011