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Massa injury puts F1 safety back in the spotlight

india Updated: Jul 26, 2009 16:20 IST

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The serious injury suffered by Brazilian Felipe Massa during Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying has served as a reminder that Formula One can never take safety for granted despite significant steps forward in recent years.

Formula One has not had a race fatality since Massa's compatriot and triple champion Ayrton Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix but there have been some close calls over the years.

"Inevitably we all become complacent if we're not confronted with a serious accident," said McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh.

"Obviously 1994 was a massive wake-up call for all of us in Formula One at the time. Everybody, the teams and the (governing) FIA, contributed to a lot of big steps forward in safety and I think we've got to go again.

"You can never do enough to improve the safety in Formula One," added the Briton.

"In Formula One we've perhaps concentrated too much on politics. We've got to get back to the championship, the fight, the show and safety."

Ferrari's Massa was stable on Sunday after surgery to a head wound suffered when he was struck on the helmet by a bouncing metal spring, weighing nearly a kilo, that had broken off compatriot Rubens Barrichello's Brawn car seconds earlier.


The accident on Saturday came less than a week after 18-year-old Briton Henry Surtees, son of Ferrari's 1964 Formula One champion John, was killed after a bouncing wheel hit him on the head in a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch.

"I honestly don't believe in coincidence in life," said Barrichello, the only current driver who was in Formula One when Senna died.

"Things happen for a reason and I think this is the second message. Imola was a message. The cars were improved. Unfortunately we lost a boy, which is tremendously sad. It is not a coincidence that something happened right now."

Safety measures have improved hugely since 1994, with HANS head and neck safety devices, higher cockpit sides and stronger helmets, but there was a feeling at the Hungarian Grand Prix that something more needed to be done.

Exactly what, was the big question.

"We need to keep a perspective of it, I guess," said Brawn owner Ross Brawn, the former Ferrari technical director.

"From what has been seen last weekend and this weekend we need to have a proper study to see if there is a need to do something."


"You really are into structures, windscreens and canopies, and anything is possible. We just need to digest what has happened, and understand it properly," he said late on Saturday.

"Without knowing all the details, it sounds like the work done on helmets over the past few years has been essential today."

Enclosing the driver carries its own risks however, potentially making it harder to extract him in an emergency.

Next year there will be no refuelling during races, which means far heavier cars lining up on the starting grid with full fuel tanks.

"We have to make sure the brakes, suspension, safety systems, the energy absorbing systems are up to that because that's quite a big step forward," said Whitmarsh.

"Maybe we can improve visors and helmets, but having said that, a spring coming off a car and being in a collision four seconds later ... it must have bounced five or six times, and for it to still be on the racing line is quite an incredible circumstance and coincidence."