Motorsports

Motorsport shaken up by Dan Wheldon's death

Motorsport is dangerous. It says so on our passes, your tickets, and even at the race tracks. We often take the statutory warnings for granted much like smokers do when they look at the health warnings on a cigarette pack. Then an accident comes along that takes the life of one of our colleagues and we are shaken to our core, in a way lung cancer victims don't affect smokers.

This week, I transited through Singapore airport on my way from the Korean Grand Prix back to Chennai. As I came up the escalator to the airline lounges, a sombre-looking Mark Webber waved out to me and I went over for a chat. The first thing he said was, "Do you know about the Las Vegas race? Dan Wheldon's been killed."

I didn't know what to say. The shock of hearing a driver of Wheldon's calibre and profile killed during a race was a lot for me to take.

Sadly, I have lost friends and even other racing drivers in accidents on the road. While there's a sense of loss and sadness, you don't feel the same shock like when you see someone killed in a race. Perhaps it comes from the relative frequency of road accidents versus ones on track, or perhaps from the fact that as racing drivers we believe we're indestructible and then get a rude shock that we're not.

I instantly thought back to the day Ayrton Senna was killed. Every single moment of that day is still clear in my head although I was only 10 at the time. My reaction this week has been the same as that day - to find out what happened. It was very important for me to see videos, read or talk to people to find out exactly what happened to Wheldon in the crash - as it has been with Ayrton's for many years. I guess it comes from the racing driver's analytical instinct but also from wanting to know if it was a freak accident or an avoidable one and what lessons can be learned from it.

Wheldon was a tremendous talent who made the bold move of giving up his dream of racing in Formula 1 to pursue a career in the States. He rose through the ranks and became one of the most successful drivers of the last 8 years, winning two Indy 500s and the Indycar Championship to establish himself among the cream of talent in America. His accident on Sunday was due to a highly unfortunate set of circumstances where some drivers ahead collided, leaving Dan nowhere to go but into them and flying into the fencing.

Although I never met Dan, he was a driver I followed very closely as he was one of the European interlopers taking on the North and South Americans in their backyard. His loss is being felt across the motorsport world and at this moment all we can do is pray that his wife and two young sons are able to cope with the cruel roll of the dice our sport sometimes plays. Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

 

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