Tuesday, May 14, 2013
At Brands Hatch on 19 July 2009, during a Formula Two race, Surtees was hit on the head by a wheel from the car of Jack Clarke after Clarke spun into the wall exiting Westfield Bend. The wheel broke its tether and bounced back across the track into the following group of cars and collided with Surtees' helmet. The mass of the wheel assembly hitting his head was 29 kilograms (64 lb). The car continued straight ahead into the barrier on the approach to Sheene Curve, also losing a wheel, and came to rest at the end of the curve with its remaining rear wheel still spinning. This indicated that Surtees had lost consciousness, with his foot still pressing the accelerator.
Surtees was extricated from the car and taken to the circuit's medical centre, where he was stabilized before being transferred to the Royal London Hospital. He was pronounced dead later that day. His death was attributed to severe head injuries, inflicted by colliding with the wheel rather than the following crash with the barriers. Surtees' funeral took place on 30 July at Worth Abbey, near Turners Hill, West Sussex.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Tom Pryce began his final race weekend, the 1977 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, by setting the fastest time in the Wednesday practice session, held in wet weather. Pryce posted a time of 1 minute 31.57 seconds with the next best, the eventual 1977 World Champion Niki Lauda, a full second slower. The weather dried up prior to the Thursday session, and he slipped back down the grid to fifteenth place, almost two seconds slower than James Hunt's pole position time.
The Welshman's DN8 made a poor start to the Grand Prix and by the end of the first lap was in last place. Pryce started to climb back up the field during the next couple of laps, overtaking Brett Lunger and team mate Renzo Zorzi on lap two, and Alex Ribeiro and Boy Hayje the following lap. By lap 18 Pryce had moved from 22nd to 13th place.
On lap 21, Zorzi pulled off to the left side of the main straight, just after a brow of a hill and a bridge over the track. The Italian was having problems with his fuel metering unit, and fuel was pumping directly onto the engine, which then caught fire. Zorzi did not immediately get out of his car as he was experiencing trouble in disconnecting the oxygen pipe from his helmet.
The situation caused two marshals from the pit wall on the opposite side of track to intervene. The first marshal to cross the track was a 25-year old panel beater named William (Bill). The second was 19-year old Frederik Jansen Van Vuuren, commonly known as Jansen Van Vuuren, who was carrying a 40 lb fire extinguisher. George Witt, the chief pit marshal for the race, said that the policy of the circuit was that in circumstances involving fires, two marshals must attend and a further two act as back-up in case their extinguishers were not effective enough. Witt also recalled that both Bill and Van Vuuren crossed the track without prior permission. The former only just made it safely across the track, but the latter did not. As the two young men started to run across the track, four cars driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck, Pryce, Jacques Laffite and Gunnar Nilsson were exiting the final corner and coming onto the main straight.
Pryce was directly behind Stuck's car along the main straight, Stuck himself sensed Van Vuuren and moved to the right to avoid both marshals, missing Bill by what Tremayne reports to have been a matter of "millimetres". From his position directly behind Stuck, Pryce could not see Van Vuuren and was unable to react as quickly as Stuck had done. He struck the teenage marshal at approximately 270 km/h (170 mph). Van Vuuren was thrown into the air and landed yards in front of Zorzi and Bill. He died upon impact, his body being literally torn in half by Pryce's car. The fire extinguisher he had been carrying smashed into Pryce's head, before striking the Shadow's roll hoop. The force of the impact was such that the extinguisher was thrown up and over the adjacent grandstand. It came to ground in the car park to the rear of the stand, where it hit a parked car and jammed its door shut.
The impact with the fire extinguisher had wrenched Pryce's helmet upward sharply, and he had been partially decapitated by the strap. Death was almost certainly instantaneous. Pryce's Shadow DN8, now with its driver dead at the wheel, continued at speed down the main straight towards the first corner, called Crowthorne. The car left the track towards the right, scraping the metal barriers before veering back onto the track after hitting an entrance for emergency vehicles. It then hit Jacques Laffite's Ligier, sending both Pryce and Laffite head on into the barriers. Van Vuuren's injuries were so severe that, initially, his body was only identified after the race director had summoned all of the race marshals and he was not among them.
The eventual race winner was Austrian Niki Lauda, this being his first win since his near fatal accident during the 1976 German Grand Prix. At first he announced it was the greatest victory of his career, but when told on the victory podium of Pryce's death, he said that "there was no joy after that".
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Senna's third and final race of the 1994 season, the San Marino Grand Prix, was held on the "Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari" circuit located in Imola, Italy. Imola had traditionally been considered the beginning of the F1 season proper, on European soil.
Senna, who did not finish the two opening races of the season, declared that this was where his season would start, with fourteen races, as opposed to sixteen, in which to win the title. Senna placed the car on pole for a then-record 65th and final time, but he was upset by events unfolding that race weekend. That weekend, Senna's feedback about the FW16 included comments about the car switching between oversteering and understeering and that the car's performance was generally worse instead of better after the engineers' latest adjustments.
During the afternoon qualifying session, Senna's compatriot and protégé Rubens Barrichello was involved in a serious accident when his Jordan became airborne at the Variante Bassa chicane (the last of the circuit) violently slamming into the tyres and fence. In the impact, Barrichello suffered a broken nose and arm; injuries that prevented him from competing in the race. Barrichello indicated that Senna was the first person he saw upon regaining consciousness.
The next day, Saturday, Austrian rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying in a devastating accident when the front wing broke on his Simtek-Ford while going flat out at the fast Villeneuve right-hander bend and into the concrete wall. A distraught Senna requested a track marshall to take him to the site of Ratzenberger's fatal crash. Senna was met by FIA's Medical Chief Professor Sid Watkins, who recalled that Senna was tearful, despite having only just met Ratzenberger the previous day. Professor Watkins suggested to Senna on that occasion to stop racing and go fishing (a hobby they both shared), to which Senna said he could not stop racing.
To obtain information about his injured colleagues that weekend, Senna climbed the fence of the Medical Centre after he inspected the crash site. Senna had commandeered an official's car to visit that site, yet the FIA chose not to take any formal disciplinary actions against Senna.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
In the 60s and early 70s it was common for Grand Prix drivers to be killed while racing, often televised for millions to see. Mechanical failure, lethal track design, fire and incompetence snuffed out dozens of young drivers. They had become almost expendable as eager young wannabes queued up at the top teams' gates waiting to take their place.
This is the story of when Grand Prix was out of control.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
On May 8, 1982, Villeneuve died after an accident during the final qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. At the time of the crash, Pironi had set a time 0.1s faster than Villeneuve for sixth place. Villeneuve was using his final set of qualifying tyres, which were probably already past their best, and many writers say that he was attempting to improve his time on his final lap. Some suggest that he was specifically aiming to beat Pironi. However, Villeneuve's biographer Gerald Donaldson quotes Ferrari race engineer Mauro Forghieri as saying that the Canadian, although pressing on in his usual fashion, was returning to the pits when the accident occurred. If so, he would not have set a time on that lap.
With eight minutes of the session left, Villeneuve came over the rise after the first chicane and caught Jochen Mass travelling much more slowly through the left-handed bend before the Terlamenbocht corner. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed and moved to the right to let him through on the racing line. At the same instant Villeneuve also moved right to pass the slower car. The Ferrari hit the back of Mass' car and was launched into the air at a speed estimated at 200–225 km/h (120–140 mph). It was airborne for more than 100 m before nosediving into the ground and disintegrating as it somersaulted along the edge of the track. Villeneuve, still strapped to his seat, but without his helmet, was thrown a further 50 m from the wreckage into the catch fencing on the outside edge of the Terlamenbocht corner.
Several drivers stopped and rushed to the scene. John Watson and Derek Warwick pulled Villeneuve, his face blue, from the catch fence. The first doctor arrived within 35 seconds to find that Villeneuve was not breathing, although his pulse continued; he was intubated and ventilated before being transferred to the circuit medical centre and then by helicopter to University St Raphael Hospital where a fatal fracture of the neck was diagnosed. Villeneuve was kept alive on life support while his wife travelled to the hospital and the doctors consulted with specialists worldwide. He died at 9:12 that evening.