Motor Racing: Brundle walks the high wire: David Tremayne talks to the Briton who has spearheaded the fight for safety

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The Independent Online
MARTIN BRUNDLE is one of the more down-to-earth Formula One drivers, pragmatic, articulate, and very aware of the tightrope across which the sport is attempting to two-step. In the aftermath of the black weekend at Imola five weeks ago, it was the 35-year-old Briton who pulled his colleagues together to protect their interests by re-forming the defunct Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

'The Imola weekend was a dreadful shock to all of us,' he said. 'And I put together an agenda for a meeting in Monaco. Every driver turned up. We had a four and a half hour meeting that was properly structured, and we covered an awful lot of ground. I've felt for a while now that the guys in Formula One are probably as sensible a bunch as I've ever seen in my 10 years - there are some very intelligent young men. A lot of the big egos have gone. I don't think this could have happened three years ago, because the egos were matched by the bank balances. We couldn't have had such a constructive meeting as we had in Monaco.'

Now, Brundle feels, the sporting public would not accept the death of a racing driver or sportsman in any discipline. 'With respect to the others, and because Ayrton was much more than just a racing driver, people focused on his death. It was very bad for our sport. We don't want to be killed, either.

'We want to put forward our recommendations not from individual drivers, but from the GPDA. And I have to say, all the circuits have been extremely welcoming; they want to be seen to be doing their best. Money hasn't even been mentioned. Nobody wants to be the next Imola.'

There was, however, a confrontation in Spain when one major change had not been made: the wall on the exit to the Nissan corner is at a bad angle and drivers had to go through there at 240kph. 'It could have been Tamburello all over again,' Brundle said. 'The circuit organisers either didn't want to, or had been told not to, make the change. Maybe somebody wanted to see how much the drivers were going to stick together. We said, 'OK, we don't race'. I was very impressed that we were unanimous.'

A chicane was installed, and the GPDA was seen to have teeth. 'We're having a chicane erected in Montreal, in that fast sweep which is like Tamburello; demanding on the car, but not the driver. No skill involved. But if you go off there you're in the Olympic rowing basin, and Formula One can't afford to lose another driver.'

In Barcelona last weekend, he said, one of the most welcome features was to see changes to Montreal and Silverstone ratified by FIA. 'When I went to Montreal I took a speed trace from the previous year, what the car was doing and where it might end up. The guys there were terrific, and they said they'd never had that kind of input before during a safety inspection. Going into the hairpin there at 300k, and going around it on foot, are two very different things.'

Brundle believes it will be difficult to keep the balance between a challenging track and a safe track; motor racing will never be completely safe. 'But we need to make it as survivable as possible. As drivers, we don't want a combative role in safety. We want to drive. But we also want to be set up so that when the engineers and the FIA come to us we can give one opinion.

'In the short term we're all thinking about safety. And while we stay together we've got a lot of clout. Everybody wants to be seen to do what the drivers want. Our meetings have been enormously successful, but the crunch is going to come if somebody is hurt in a corner where the drivers asked for changes, because then we may become open to political manoeuvres. We just have to see what happens in a year's time, but this is not a particularly democratic society we live in.'

(Photograph omitted)