Letter: Safety measures after motor racing's black weekend, and how Senna might have survived

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Sir: As the motor racing world struggles to come to terms with the multiple tragedies of one of Grand Prix's blackest weekends, we should not seek to luxuriate in the undeniable ironies they offer and be too quick to blame the banning of driver aids simply because Ayrton Senna was voicing such fears shortly before his death. We should not forget the many and violent accidents that unperfected active suspension was responsible for in the past.

While the absence of traction control and active suspension may yet prove to have played a part, at the time of writing it seems more likely that all three of the weekend's enormous accidents were caused by other factors. The accidents of Barrichello, Ratzenberger and Senna all resulted from the cars in question not even beginning to negotiate bends normally well within their limits, leaving the track at terrible speed and hitting inelastic objects as a result. Car failure causing a sudden and massive loss in downforce must in each case be suspected.

The lessons to be learnt are not that the cars are under-sophisticated and structurally deficient, rather that they are generating too much downforce and are too strong for driver survival. By 'too strong' I refer to the lack of crumple zones available to dissipate the energy of a high-speed smash. To put it crudely, in the days of steel frames the driver's neck and head were often saved by the crushing of their legs. Carbon fibre offers no such deformation and the exposed head/neck of both Ratzenberger and Senna suffered unsurvivable forces as a result.

The direction Formula One must now take is a radical one. Wings should be banned and any downforce-generating devices be made an integral part of the car. This could be done in conjunction with moving to a full-bodied Formula, simultaneously allowing the introduction of crumple zones and enclosing the wheels, thus also stopping cars being launched over one another, as happened to Christian Fittipaldi last year. It is to this end, rather than to a hasty reintroduction of active suspension, that FIA, the international automobile association, must apply itself.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN RICHARDSON

Oxford

2 May

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