Formula One drivers warned off karts

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Motor sport

The annual charity fund-raising Masters karting event attracted capacity crowds of 24,000 at Palais Omnisports in Paris last weekend despite the withdrawal of the Formula One champion Michael Schumacher at short notice with flu.

Other leading Formula One drivers including David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill were not allowed to compete by their teams because of the risk of injury. A risk underlined by five drivers with Formula One experience who suffered injuries after the first night of the two- day event.

The Brazilian Roberto Moreno bruised his ribs, Finland's Mika Salo damaged a shoulder, the Italian Andrea Montermini cracked a rib, France's Olivier Grouillard bruised some ribs and the Italian Vincenzo Sospiri suffered a badly sprained wrist after Salo's kart landed upside down on him following a spectacular collision.

Philippe Streiff, the organiser, said the event has become too popular and competitive for its own good and may have to change in order to survive.

"I started this event for fun," said Streiff who is confined to a wheelchair since he broke his neck in a Formula One test drive crash in Brazil six years ago. "It was a spectacle for the public and enjoyment for all the drivers, especially all the Formula One stars, who came to take part. But now it is too serious. The drivers go too fast and there are too many injuries.

"The younger guys take it very seriously and fight hard," Streiff said . "The crowd love to see it, but it is dangerous for the Formula One drivers, of course. So, they need to have better protection - and we have to find a way of doing that to keep the event as successful as it is.

"We have to make the karts safer and we have to make the drivers more secure and better protected." he said.

Johnny Herbert, the winner of last season's British and Italian Grands Prix agreed with that analysis: "It is a great event and we all enjoy coming here each year," he said. "But you have to be careful. Injuries can be a problem, obviously, so we have to keep out of trouble.

"I know it has been worse this year. There have been a lot of very competitive younger guys from other junior formulae taking part, some of them karting champions and wearing protective waistcoats under their gear.

"Sometimes it is better to let them get on with it."