[CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussion of motorsport accidents]
Motorsport, another term for motor racing: ‘the sport of racing motor vehicles, especially cars’.
If you’ve not heard of Formula 1, the absolute pinnacle of world motorsport, then one: why not? and two: can we even be friends? When I was growing up, I saw Formula 1 as cars going around in circles, I’ll admit, but now, after a few years of following it, I know that there’s so much more to it than that.
Okay, so there’s also more to motorsport than Formula 1. You’ve got the single seater categories, which F1 falls into, along with its junior feeder series, like Formula 2 and Formula 3. You’ve got championships like FIA World Rally and IndyCar in the USA, while electric racing is becoming more popular worldwide with Formula E and Extreme E. The latter is only in its inaugural season and, according to the Extreme E website, the aim of the series is to ‘tell the story of the effects of climate change and human activity on stunning, remote locations around the globe through world-class sport’. Especially in modern society, having a motorsport series which acknowledges such important issues demonstrates just how far we’ve come – but there’s still so much to do.
No matter your views or your opinions, there has to be one racing series which interests you. Even just a little bit.
My passion for motorsport and Formula 1 in particular has grown over the past few years. Emotions run high across a race weekend. Not just for me, but for any fan or even someone who follows F1 passively. That’s why when it becomes tough, the community unites and finds peace in common ground. As Aston Martin [F1 Team] driver Lance Stroll once said, ‘you love the sport, and it just don’t love you back’. Sometimes, this is the harsh truth.
Safety in motorsport is absolutely paramount, and over recent years, it has continued to develop and improve. Sometimes, people forget that F1 drivers, and those who compete in other motorsport categories, risk their lives every time they step foot into their racing vehicle.
Fatalities at the very top level in Formula 1 are rare these days. I wasn’t alive to see it, but even hearing people talk about the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix gives me goosebumps. Safety was important back then as it is now, but with the new and ever-changing technology in 2021, safety is the most important aspect of modern motorsport. Although, it wasn’t just the fatalities in Imola in 1994 which changed the view on safety in Formula 1. The most recent fatality in a Formula 1 World Championship race came at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. It was this accident, which took the life of Jules Bianchi, that changed Formula 1 forever.
In very wet conditions at Suzuka, Bianchi lost control of his Marussia F1 car and collided with a recovery vehicle, still on track after dealing with a previous incident involving Adrian Sutil. He suffered a severe head injury and was placed in a coma until his death on July 17, 2015. Jules was only twenty-five years old.
The Fèdèration Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) made the halo mandatory on every vehicle in Formula 1, Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula 4, Formula Regional and Formula E in 2018. The halo is a head protection device, consisting of a curved titanium bar which protects the driver’s head on impact with another vehicle, anything in their surrounding environment, like a barrier, or any debris on track. Initially receiving some criticism for its appearance and because its introduction into sport went against the “essence of racing cars”, according to Niki Lauda, the halo is one of, if not the best, piece of safety introduced into open-cockpit racing. When it saves the lives of not one, but many racing drivers across multiple racing series, the halo deserves extreme praise and endless thanks.
Not only did Bianchi’s accident initiate the development and use of the halo protection device, but other safety procedures were changed and introduced in the hope of adding extra safety to Formula 1 and those competing in the championship. The FIA began to research other ways to effectively slow cars in crash zones during a session, which led to the trial of a Virtual Safety Car (VSC), something which is still used, and tested often, in Formula 1 today. Although these changes seem relatively minor and easy to implement, you have to look past that. These changes are responsible for saving lives. It’s just devastating to think we lost one for things to actually change.
Spa Francorchamps, Belgium. It’s 2018. All twenty cars are lined up on the grid. The halo proves its effectiveness as early as turn one, when Fernando Alonso’s McLaren made contact with Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. The halo was only introduced a matter of months before this collision and without it, things could be so different to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to consider it. Without the halo protecting Leclerc’s head, the contact could have been fatal. It’s important, as a Formula 1 fan, to sometimes take a step back and forget about the actual racing for a second or two, and just focus on how far the safety has come in the sport we all love so much. If only a year earlier, when the halo wasn’t mandatory on all single seater vehicles under the FIA, the outcome of one wrong move could have been so different.
We jump into a time machine and head to Bahrain in 2020. This doesn’t feel like too long ago to me. Honestly, I think about this day a lot. November 29, 2020. First lap drama is always a given in Formula 1, but this accident was like something out of a horror film, and I think it will stay with not only me, but any motorsport fan, forever.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean was involved in a high-speed accident after turn three at around 119mph. His car burst into flames on impact and split in two. Those moments from the impact of the crash to seeing Grosjean emerge from the flames felt like a lifetime. He suffered second degree burns. At one point, I thought, along with many others and even Grosjean himself, that it could have been so much worse than that. In fact, in an interview with Martin Brundle for Sky Sports, Grosjean admitted that he saw death and called it ‘Benoit’. It gives me shivers. Now, only seven months after the accident which could’ve taken his life, Romain Grosjean is in America, competing in IndyCar for Dale Coyne Racing. As his Instagram bio states, he is ‘haters and fire resistant’. I agree.
So, if Formula 1 can be so dangerous, then why is it my passion? Sometimes, I find myself asking the same thing. I know that motorsport is safer now than it has ever been. I trust that safety is the most important thing in motorsport.
Formula 1 has the power to bring people together, both during the good times and the bad. The excitement of watching your favourite driver or favourite team throughout a race weekend, even if you’re at home in front of the TV (like all of us during lockdown), is special, and the adrenaline is pumping from lights out to chequered flag. On the other hand, I remember that community feeling when fans came together online after Grosjean’s accident, and when fans continue to come together to remember those who we have lost in our sport.
I’m yet to see an actual Formula 1 race at an actual race track – thanks, COVID – but 2022 looks promising. Live sport is truly unbelievable, and I can’t wait to experience the sport I love so much with the friends I have made because of it. That’s one of the other many reasons as to why motorsport is my passion. I grew up with the whole ‘don’t talk to strangers on the internet’ mantra, but some of those strangers I’ve met on the internet are my best friends. The world works in such crazy ways.
Seeing people share their love and passion for Formula 1 on social media is amazing, too. Reading other people’s stories about how they found F1 and how they fell in love with it just shows how amazing sport can be at bringing people together. The passion really is like something I’ve never felt before, not even when surrounded by my friends and live music at gigs. Ah, gigs, I can’t remember what they’re even like anymore.
So, here’s to sport. Here’s to what sport can do for people, how it can bring people together and unite people during their toughest times. A world without sport is a world I could never live in.
Oh, and if any of you do like a bit of Formula 1, can we be friends?