Ayrton Senna: The one positive from Senna's death has seen safety improvements prevent any further deaths in F1 20 years on

No driver has died in F1 since Senna's tragic crash at Imola 20 years ago

If there was one lasting legacy left by the tragic deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger 20 years ago at Imola, it was the impact they had on attitudes towards driver safety in Formula One.

It is testament to the measures implemented since that no driver has lost his life over the course of an F1 weekend since Senna on May 1, 1994 and Ratzenberger the day before.

Former FIA president Max Mosley was the pioneer, vowing then that F1 would never again be plunged into such darkness, believing if one of the sport's greatest drivers could so needlessly lose his life that change was drastically required.

Following the events at Imola, Mosley commissioned the late Professor Sid Watkins, the FIA's former medical delegate and one of Senna's closest friends, to chair the Expert Advisory Safety Committee.

Together with a number of influential figures, including current race director and safety delegate Charlie Whiting and the late Harvey Postlethwaite, a former key designer, the group devised a number of safety features.

With Mosley insisting money was no object, the group worked closely with the Manufacturers' Research Institute and Transport Research Laboratory, to implement many of the devices seen today.

 

Amongst the ideas that have come to fruition are the collapsible steering column, protective foam around the top of the cockpit, crash tests for front, rear and side impacts, the Head And Neck Support (HANS) device which has become mandatory for every driver, and wheel tethers.

There has also been a revamp of many circuits, which now include much larger run-off areas, and notably impact-absorbing crash barriers.

Whiting remains one of the pivotal characters within the FIA, having worked with motor sport's world governing body since 1988 when he started out in the technical department.

Whiting has spent the last 17 years in his current posts, as well as being a member of the FIA's Research Group, Safety Commission and Circuits Commission.

Reflecting on the weekend at Imola, and the improvements made since, he told Press Association Sport: "At that point (in 1994) nobody had lost their life at a grand prix for 12 years, which at the time was thought to be quite an achievement.

"But everything came together that weekend, which was quite amazing really when you think about it because none of those accidents were linked.

"You could have sat down for hours, with all sorts of people, trying to think of something. Had something broken in Formula One?

Read more: RON DENNIS STILL STRUGGLES TO TALK ABOUT SENNA 20 YEARS ON
BRUNO SENNA: MY UNCLE AYRTON IS STILL A DRIVING FORCE

"There was absolutely no connection between the accidents of Roland, Ayrton and Rubens Barrichello (injured in a crash in Friday qualifying), and then there was the start-line accident with Pedro Lamy and JJ Lehto (when nine fans were injured by flying debris).

"A couple of weeks later, of course, we had Karl Wendlinger (who was in a coma for several weeks after an accident at Monaco).

"You couldn't really honestly say there was one thing out there that was a problem, other than the need for higher-cockpit sides because they arguably would have helped Wendlinger.

"The important thing was to do the right research because what you sometimes think is the right thing to do intuitively often turns out not to be the case.

"So much has since been done in terms of safety with the cars, and this was led by Sid, Harvey and I.

"We did lots of work which led to the higher-cockpit sides, wheel tethers, anti-intrusion panels on the sides of the cars, stringent crash testing, all manner of things. It started from that point.

"Then we have the modern design of crash helmet that took some years to develop, and which was as a direct result of Ayrton's accident. It is the same weight, but now twice as strong.

"We've also much more stronger roll structures front and rear; we've put lots of padding inside the cockpit, inside the foot well; also extractable seats."

Whiting concedes to being amazed by how much has been achieved over the last 20 years, in particular how some drivers are able to walk away from an accident these days that would likely have resulted in serious injury or death two decades ago.

Whiting, though, is far from resting on any laurels, adding: "Without wishing to be downbeat about it, even now it only takes a little bit of bad luck to have a completely different result.

"Take Mark Webber's accident for example (in the 2010 European Grand Prix in Valencia when he ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen and somersaulted through the air). He could have made different contact with an overhead advertising sign and who knows what the end result might have been?

"When (Romain) Grosjean had that moment of madness in Spa (in the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix), he could have gone across the side of (Fernando) Alonso's car and quite easily have injured or killed him.

"So we have to temper our enthusiasm and learn from the accidents that do happen.

"As long as we keep looking and don't sit back and say 'Well, this is as safe as we can make them', then we should be in good shape.

"I have to say the teams, through the Technical Working Group, and things like that, are extremely receptive to ideas.

"I sometimes feel a bit embarrassed to keep asking for more and more and more, but they are always very up for it."

There is no doubt the advancements made have been life-saving, and Whiting concluded: "When you look back at the cars 20 years ago - and we thought they were safe then - I am proud of what we have all achieved."

PA

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence