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?


"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."


people And here is why...
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?