Wayne Gardner believes that 'unforeseeable circumstances' contributed to the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli during the Malaysian Grand Prix, playing down concerns that the sport is otherwise too dangerous.
Simoncelli was collected after falling in the path of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi during the early stages of the Sepang, the Italian succumbing to his injuries a short time later.
His death, the first in the MotoGP class since Daijiro Kato in 2003, has raised questions regarding safety in the sport, but while 1987 500cc world champion Gardner concedes that motorsport is dangerous, this particular incident was mostly unpredictable.
“The accident that claimed Marco's life was freakish in the extreme,” said Gardner, who says he met Simoncelli for the first time during the Australian Grand Prix a week earlier. “I've never seen anything like it in all my years associated with racing. The start of the incident isn't entirely clear as it happened off camera. All we saw was his bike veering violently to the right and into the path of Colin and Vale. I think he must have initially lost the front, only to have the tyres somehow grip again and launch him straight across the track.
“You know, a lot of people and media have been asking me over the past 12-hours if this sport is too dangerous. The honest answer is that, yes, to a certain extent, it is. And if fans and TV executives are honest, they'll know that danger is part of the appeal and excitement. For the riders themselves, the adrenalin-charged thrill of being on the edge is also a huge part of why they race. Of course, we're talking very high speeds and when things go wrong the consequences can be disastrous.
“But at the same time we need to put things into perspective. Other sports (like horse riding, rock fishing, football, cycling, skydiving) are also dangerous. Even simply driving on the roads is dangerous. As for MotoGP, everyone involved knows the risks, and extreme measures are taken to ensure a high degree of rider safety. Things like track run-off, protective riding gear, and onsite medical facilities are all first-rate, while the skills of the actual riders themselves is staggering.
“Yet we still have to acknowledge that the worst can sometimes occur. Yesterday's dreadful tragedy was one such time. And while no words can ever make up for such a loss, I'll be choosing to remember Marco for what he was: an exciting, enthusiastic, entertaining, talented, fearless competitor. And, I think it's fair to say, a great bloke.”
Gardner also extended his condolences towards Edwards and Rossi, insisting they were simply in the 'wrong place at the wrong time'.
“Toni, the boys, and myself simply want to extend our deepest condolences and thoughts to Marco's family, friends, and team. I also want to extend my sincerest sympathies to Colin and Valentino. They will be absolutely gutted and racked with a huge amount of guilt. Having been involved in a similar incident with Franco Uncini many, many yeas ago, I have a pretty good idea about how they'll be feeling. But it simply wasn't their fault.
“There's nothing they could have done. Both will be replaying the event in their mind over and over again, wondering if they could have veered to the left, the right, braked harder. But while a small consolation, the TV footage of the accident - now and in the years to come - will show them they had absolutely no time to avoid the collision. It was, sadly, just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”