A question often asked of drivers during Formula 1‘s ‘killer years’ in the 1960s and 1970s, was how can someone knowingly put themselves in such danger with such a high possibility of serious injury or death?
According to Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University, in the decade between 1966 and 1976 a Formula 1 driver had a 1% chance of dying for every three Grand Prix he competed.
This means that in an average career lasting ten years, with an average of fifteen races per season (Grand Prix and non-GP) a driver had a 50% chance of being killed at the wheel.
In the decade in question, over 100 drivers suffered said fate in motorsport worldwide, including 14 who perished at the wheel of a Formula 1 car.
The first of those, Britain’s John Taylor who died in the 1966 German Grand Prix, was the 25th F1 fatality since its advent in 1950. The last, Mark Donohue who succumbed to injuries sustained in the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix took the tally to 38.
Formula 1 was just 25 years old.
The answer to that question was largely that drivers either chose not to think about what could happen at all, or that they told themselves that while it happened to other people it could never happen to them.
In the last 25 years, our sport has made great strides in the name of safety. Safer cars. Safer tracks. Better equipped and more medically advanced support teams.
Just three Formula 1 drivers – Jules Bianchi, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger – have died at the wheel (or as a consequence of an F1 crash in Jules’ case).
I wonder how often modern F1 drivers are asked how they justify competing in such a dangerous arena?
Nowadays we’re all guilty of being complacent. We think the sport is too safe. Sterile. That the danger has been taken away leaving the sport a shadow of its former self.
And every now and again, we get a reminder of the inherent dangers driver face every time they take to the track.
One such reminder came on Saturday in the Belgian #F2 feature race when 2018 Formula 3 champion Anthoine Hubert crashed heavily at Radillion, rebounded back towards the following pack and was hit broadside by another car.
Hubert suffered unsurvivable injuries and died a short while later.
Questions were raised about the layout of the Spa-Francorchamps track. About the Dallara Formula 2 car. About the driving of those involved. All with a view to learning from the death of a promising young driver and making his legacy one of a better and safer future for his compatriots.
We must never be complacent our pursuit of safety, but we must also accept that beneath it all lies a fundamental danger that will never be wholly removed.
Rest in peace Anthoine Hubert. #F2 #AH19