Schumacher injuries spur drive for safety reform

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The Independent Online

Investigation into Formula One safety standards will intensify following the news that Ralf Schumacher will not race for three months because of spinal fractures sustained in his crash during US Grand Prix at Indianapolis 11 days ago. The FIA president, Max Mosley, is already close to using the safety card to railroad through his raft of proposed modifications, which include a switch to 2.4-litre V8 engines to curtail a dramatic rise in lap speeds this season.

Investigation into Formula One safety standards will intensify following the news that Ralf Schumacher will not race for three months because of spinal fractures sustained in his crash during US Grand Prix at Indianapolis 11 days ago. The FIA president, Max Mosley, is already close to using the safety card to railroad through his raft of proposed modifications, which include a switch to 2.4-litre V8 engines to curtail a dramatic rise in lap speeds this season.

Schumacher, younger brother of world champion Michael, crashed on the sixth lap of the American race, hitting the concrete outer wall in the banked Turn 13 at 175mph (280kph) and 77g, according to his car's onboard telemetry. He was taken to Indianapolis's Methodist Hospital for examination and released on Monday morning, but further tests yesterday, his 29th birthday, revealed two spinal fractures. He will be out of racing for up to three months, and may not race again this season.

His spokesman said that doctors at the clinic in the west German spa town of Bad Nauheim, where he is being treated, believe he is likely to need eight to 12 weeks to recover.

Schumacher, who said he could remember nothing of his accident, which was thought to be caused by a deflating tyre, said: "To be honest, I imagined my birthday would be rather different. Yesterday's diagnosis was a real blow. But so be it. What's happened has happened. The injury is worse than feared. I have to get through it."

Schumacher's BMW-Williams team confirmed that they will call up their test driver Marc Gené for this weekend's French Grand Prix. The Spaniard made his F1 debut for the Minardi team in 1999 and has competed in 34 grands prix, including last year's Italian at Monza where he was hurriedly called up to deputise for Schumacher. The German driver had crashed heavily in testing due to a car failure the previous week and on the Friday during race weekend reported that he had forgotten to brake for the first chicane during the morning's practice session. Since that is approached at more than 188mph (300kmh), his admission sounded alarm bells. Gené finished fifth in the race, before Schumacher returned at the following US GP

Gené drives regularly for BMW-Williams as official test driver and is highly regarded within the team. Last week, during tests in Jerez in Spain, he carried out refuelling pit stops in readiness for his latest call-up. That was a blow to the team's other test driver, Antonio Pizzonia, who returned to his role at Williams after being sacked mid-season by Jaguar last year. He had hoped to resume his career.

Schumacher's absence may have far-reaching ramifications, not just in the field of safety but also in the driver market. The German was,in any case, due to leave Williams after six seasons and his deal to race for Toyota next year, one of the worst kept secrets, was due to be announced at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone a week after the French race. With Renault due to confirm here this weekend that they will be keeping drivers Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli for 2005, team principal Flavio Briatore's third contracted driver, the Australian Mark Webber, is increasingly likely to be Williams' premier choice to replace Schumacher next season.

However, speculation is rife that Williams may use the insurance money it will claim after the Schumacher accident to try to buy Webber out of his contract with Jaguar Racing sooner than anticipated, so that he can race for Williams from the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim on 25 July.

The Ford-owned Jaguar team want to hang on to Webber, but team principal Tony Purnell has acknowledged that money talks. Since his team lacks the level of funding of top teams such as Williams, it is not impossible that an early accommodation might be reached.

Yesterday it was also confirmed that ITV commentator Martin Brundle will return to the Jaguar team, for whom he won the world sportscar championship, as their driver in the F1 for London event on 6 July.

* The F1 calendar could contain 19 races next year. Max Mosley said yesterday that Bernie Ecclestone, who handles the sport's finances, had finalised dates for a draft calendar with 19 slots.

FORMULA ONE CASUALTIES

NIGEL MANSELL

In 1977 Mansell fractured a vertebra after rolling a Formula Ford Crossle, but recovered. Two years later his March F3 car was inverted following a collision at Oulton Park with the erratic Italian driver Andrea de Cesaris. On that occasion Mansell shrugged off painkillers so that he would know whether his neck was recovering sufficiently, in order to take up an opportunity to test an F1 Lotus at Paul Ricard only days later. His resilience led directly to the Lotus test role that ultimately became a race drive for the famous British team in 1980.

PHILIPPE STREIIFF

The Frenchman's story is one of F1's dark secrets. He crashed his AGS in testing in Brazil early in 1989 but was able to get out of the upturned car and walk to the medical centre. However, a series of well-intended but unfortunate decisions led to delays in operating on a dislocation of his neck and he became permanently paralysed.

JEAN ALESI

The Frenchman crashed his Ferrari in testing at Mugello in 1994 and suffered a neck injury that kept him out of the cockpit for the season's first three races.

JJ LEHTO

In testing at Silverstone in 1994 the Finn misjudged his braking for Stowe Corner and crashed backwards into a wall. He was fortunate to escape with a neck injury that forced him to miss the first two races.

RALF SCHUMACHER

When Schumacher hit the wall at Indianapolis at 77g he was very fortunate that other safety devices worked in conjunction with his car's mandatory crushable rear crash structure (introduced for 1997). The HANS neck support, which was made mandatory in 2003, helped him to avoid whiplash, while the mandatory safety seat enabled medics to lift him from the wreckage complete with the seat to avoid aggravating his spinal problems. Developed in conjunction with Lear and safety crusaders Sir Jackie Stewart and Professor Sid Watkins, the seat features a head stabilisation board and its own driver restraints, and can be lifted directly from the car with the occupant so that the orientation of the driver's posture remains unchanged. Cockpits are mandatorily wide enough to facilitate this.

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