Red Bull Racing's technical genius Adrian Newey has expressed his shock and sadness over the death of British motor racing driver Dan Wheldon in the IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday.
"It's always a terrible moment for the sport if somebody is killed, it doesn't matter whether it is the formula you are involved in or not," he told The Guardian
newspaper this week. "It is a shockwave for the sport that we always need to learn. We are all aware of the fact that it exists, but it is one thing being aware of it and another thing when it happens."
Newey said that he had known Wheldon since the driver was just five years old and described him as "one of the most talented British youngsters at the time of Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson," consistently beating both of his contemporaries by the time he was just 12-years-old.
"I saw him at Goodwood in the summer," added Newey, referring to the annual Festival of Speed event at Goodwood that this year had a special theme celebrating the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 - which Wheldon had won. "He was enjoying life."
Wheldon opted to move to America and IndyCar racing when the F1 route didn't work out, and Newey himself also spent his early years as a motorcar designer working in IndyCar for the March team.
He delivered a 1984 car that claimed seven victories in the series including that year's Indianapolis 500; Newey-designed cars went on to claim to series championship for Al Unser and Bobby Rahal in 1985 and 1986 before the bright lights of F1 beckoned.
"In the four years that I did IndyCars I was fortunate enough that there were no tragic accidents and nobody was really badly hurt," he told The Guardian
. "But if you are racing around an oval with concrete walls and lots of cars going at very high speeds in very close proximity, it is going to be a recipe for large accidents – particularly with open-wheel cars."
Newey sadly has first-hand knowledge of the potentially terrible consequences of high-speed racing, having experienced the dreadful events of Imola in 1994 in which Aryton Senna died at the wheel of a Newey-designed Williams car.
“Certainly in my case, to have been in charge of the design of the car where a driver lost his life, there would be something wrong with you if you didn't question what you were doing at that point,” he admitted.
Senna was the last fatality in an F1 Grand Prix, but current world champion Sebastian Vettel insisted that "We should never give up on trying to make racing safer in general.
"The last couple of years we've had some big crashes and luckily no big injuries or worse than that," continued Vettel, who just won his second championship in another Newey creation at Red Bull. "The bottom line is what we do might not be the safest so there is always some risk but we are ready to take that into account because we love racing, and we love motor sports. And it is dangerous."
"IndyCar will learn from it and F1, I am sure, will also look to learn from it," agreed Newey.
"Dan Wheldon is a big loss for motorsport in general."