A Thought Experiment on Racing Safety

Henri Louveau's Talbot-Lago T26 after crashing in the 1951 Swiss GP

I know that increasing safety at racing events was a long, hard road and a heroic fight by Jackie Stewart and others who were just plain sick of seeing all of their friends die. I also know that the transition from haybales and snow fencing to endless runoff areas and HANS was not as knee-jerk as it seems in hindsight.

I sometimes wonder, though, if we could go back and introduce later safety technologies earlier, if we might have avoided sanitizing the sport so much. If we could have given Graham Hill a HANS device, might we have avoided cutting all the hedges out of the run up to Nürburgring’s Antoniusbrücke? If we could give Ascari a modern puncture-resistant fuel cell, could we have avoided endless run-off areas that place spectators so far from the track?

Don’t get me wrong, this photo of Henri Louveau’s Talbot-Lago after overrunning a corner on the 30th lap of the 1951 Swiss Grand Prix doesn’t look pretty. It must have been terrifying… But it also shows that when fire wasn’t a factor, grand prix cars of the era weren’t so very fragile. If Henri also had a HANS, and a decent roll cage, and some crumple areas, maybe the sport would still be a more visceral experience today.

I know that there a lot of very differing opinions on the topic of racing safety. I know that even with the sport being as safe as it is that drivers and spectators still get killed in the modern era. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this. Have we taken too much excitement out of the sport in the name of safety? Have we not yet made the sport safe enough? Is there anything that can even be done about it?

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