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Kate Walker: The dark cloud

12 June 2013

In her first exclusive feature for Crash.net from within the F1 paddock, Kate Walker – a woman not afraid to ask the probing questions that everyone wants to know the answers to – looks back at the tragic events that occurred in Montreal following the Canadian Grand Prix...

Motorsport is dangerous. It says so on the tickets, in the programmes, and on the waivers journalists sign at the start of every season. But it is all too easy to consign the dangers of motorsport to that distant land we call 'The Past', to presume that modern safety measures afford every necessary protection.

The 2013 Canadian Grand Prix will be remembered for the tragic death of Mark Robinson, a volunteer marshal and life-long Formula One fan who lost his life while helping to recover Esteban Gutierrez' car after the race.

In the wake of Robinson's death investigations will be conducted into the cause of the accident, and ways and means of preventing such an accident recurring. According to the Quebec Commission de la Sante et de la Securite de Travail (equivalent to the Health and Safety Executive), it will take around six months to investigate and report on the accident.

Since Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994, no Formula One driver has died in a racing incident, although other series have not been as fortunate. Robinson is the third F1 marshal to die in a track accident this century; in 2000 Paolo Ghislimberti died after being struck by a flying wheel at Monza, while Graham Beveridge was killed in a similar incident in Melbourne a year later.

The FIA has invested millions into researching and improving motorsport safety standards over the past twenty years, with that investment spread between driver-specific safety research – such as roll-hoops and covered cockpits – and improvements to barriers and catch-fencing that will protect spectators and trackside workers in the event of an incident.

Thanks to a combination of trackside safety improvements and mandated crash testing of an ever-increasing list of components, modern F1 drivers have been able to walk away from accidents that would have proved fatal only twenty years earlier, from Robert Kubica's 2007 Montreal shunt to Mark Webber's aerial adventures in Valencia in 2010.

Despite these improvements, however, motorsport is always going to carry an inherent level of risk. Whatever efforts are made, the chance of injury from flying debris will exist for as long as there are people trackside. There are just too many variables to cover every eventuality.

While risk can never be eliminated from motorsport, it can be minimised. The FIA's approach to improving motorsport safety sees the Federation continue to invest in research and new technology despite the diminishing returns available, reducing risks by fractions of a percent where great strides are no longer possible.

Discussions on how best to prevent a repeat of Mark Robinson's tragic and untimely death are already underway. To respect his memory, we must do what we can to further reduce the risk of accident or injury to trackside personnel, no matter how tough a job that might be.


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