Sunday, July 20, 2003

Bad day at the track

Some people will know that I used to be a motor racing marshal until an unfortunate incident in a gravel trap left me with a badly injured knee, making track side work impossible. I still like motor racing and watch races whenever I get the opportunity and I keep as up to date as possible with the rule changes, etc.

So today I was watching Formula One on TV. It was the British Grand Prix, which I have only done spectator marshalling at (directing traffic to car parks and stopping people from lighting barbecues next to wooden grandstands). Silverstone is a lovely circuit, which was greatly improved about 10 years ago went the track layout was altered to facilitate the building of new run off areas for the race cars and grandstands for the spectators. It's still a power circuit with a sequence of fast corners leading to the main straight which terminates into the "new" complex of slower corners that were designed to increase over taking. Cars exiting the fast complex will be doing about 130 mph, accelerating up the straight to 200+ mph before breaking hard. It's the fastest part of the circuit and compares with the Parabolica at Monza or the old Tamburello at Imola - where Ayrton Senna was killed in a high speed accident in 1994. So imagine, the shock it was to see what could only described as a lunatic with a death wish (click on the image to get an enlargement) calmly jogging along this straight down toward the fast complex of corners at Becketts. The yellow Jordon that can be seen exiting the corner is doing about 140 mph and about two seconds after the picture had passed the nutter. Added to which the guy was trying to wave protest placards in front of the cars, on only one occasion did he try to get out of the way, in most cases actually moving toward the racing line of the cars. It was only the skill of the drivers in avoiding him that prevented his death, though had one of the cars hit him it would likely have killed the driver too. By the nature of that part of the circuit no marshals were sent to retrieve him until the safety car had been deployed and being in the early stages of the race with the cars were still fairly bunched up a safe gap was quickly forthcoming for the marshals to deal with him, and knowing the mentality of the marshals they wouldn't have been gentle with him, I know if I was dealing with him I would managed at least one surreptitious kick with my steel toe-capped boots. The worst thing is, this guy is only going to be charged with aggravated trespass, which his lawyers may be able to argue around by virtue of him having a ticket, but why not add on attempted murder. After all there is already evidence that a formula one car hitting a person at speed will cause the death of the driver, as Tom Pryce was killed in 1977 when he struck a marshal who was crossing the track, and F1 cars are much faster now that they were 26 years ago, plus this whole issue was discussed in 2000 after a disgruntled Frenchman breached security to make a track side protest again Mercedes-Benz.

The timing of this couldn't have been worse. The whole future of the British Grand Prix is in question, and an incident like this could be all it takes to have one of the great sporting institutions of the summer erased permanently from the calender.

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