From the beginning of the sport till the end of the 70s, Formula 1 has seen, on average, three deaths every two years. Though the numbers after this era have improved dramatically. Seasons between 1977 and 1994, 17 years in total, claimed 6 lives. Though what comes ahead is even better advertisement for all the technological advancements in safety. There were no casualties, from 1995 till 2013 in the sport!
Safety mechanisms to be used in modern Formula 1 cars were significantly influenced by Roland Ratzenberger’s and Ayrton Senna’s fatal crashes at Imola in 1994. These mechanisms started to come out from the next season.
Tracks were changed to slow down cars wherever needed. Increased rules on pit speeds, yellow flag speeds and many more were tweaked. Safety inside the car was also given a lot of thought. Concepts like ‘survival cells’, head and neck support systems, size restrictions on cockpit size, helmet standardization and more, quickly made way into the sport. And it worked!
Many experts, drivers and constructor continue to debate whether such systems were required. But with more than causality-free 15 years of Formula 1, everyone got pretty much confident in the modern Formula 1 car’s safety. But the conversations picked up momentum again after Jules Bianchi’s crash in 2014.
5th October 2014, Japanese GP. On lap 43, under yellow flag, Bianchi lost control of his car and veered off track. His car crossed the available run-off area, pretty much a passenger at this point, Jules’ car crashed into the service crane at the barriers. The crane was there to collect Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber. Bianchi would later succumb to his injuries in a hospital on 17th July 2015.
The crash came out as another wake up call. Proving that driver safety is still a large concern. Following the accident, FIA implemented various new techniques.
The FIA established strict guidelines for recovering stricken vehicles from the track. Start time for various grand prix altered such that the race won’t start or end within four hours of dusk/dawn with the exception of night events. Another rule introduced after the crash was the Virtual Safety car. The arrangement does not neutralise race proceedings as much as safety car periods. The newest addition to these features is the Halo.
The question though, still remains. Have we done everything? Are the drivers now truly safe? The sad truth is we will never know how much is enough. We can have multiple, horrifying crashes where drivers will walk out without a scratch on their bodies. Though these boost confidence, it only takes that one fatal crash to prove we have not done enough.