|ATLAS F1 Volume 7, Issue 18
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|Open Letter to
Professor Sid Watkins
|by Karl Ludvigsen, England
In April 1998, after reading the book by Professor Sid Watkins entitled Triumph and Tragedy in Formula One, I addressed a letter to Watkins, who is an eminent neurosurgeon and who has been the official surgeon to Formula One since 1978. Reading his book, I said to him, "prompted me once more to marshal my thoughts on the subject of motor racing safety."
My letter to Sid Watkins continued as follows:
"This is a field in which I was personally active from 1969 through 1971, both as a developer and manufacturer of on-board fire extinguishing equipment for racing cars and as the founder of the Motor Racing Safety Society. At a time when any discussion of motor racing safety was highly controversial, the M.R.S.S. flew the flag on behalf of advances from 1969 through 1976. Active as you were in the Watkins Glen area in some of those years, you may well have been aware of the meetings held each year at the Grand Prix by the M.R.S.S.
"My reading of your admirably detailed, specific and valuable book leads me to make the following comments:
"Achieving a broader approach to racing safety
"These are just two of the major topics that are brought to mind by my contemplation of your book. Perhaps one of the commitments that the FIA can make at the millennium will be a major commitment to the extension of its successful efforts in the improvement of Formula One racing safety to the betterment of motor racing safety as a whole throughout the world. This would be a worthwhile project for the next 25 years or so!
"In closing please let me express my appreciation for your work and the hope that it continues to yield measurable benefits."
I sent a copy of the letter to Max Mosley at the FIA, in the hope that my remarks - intended to be constructive - might have triggered a discussion on the actions that can be taken to extend to other levels of motor racing throughout the world the know-how that has been gained on safety in Formula One. Neither Watkins nor Mosley acknowledged receipt of the letter. Accordingly, I feel free to publish it as an open letter at this time.
Why at this time? Because, like the rest of the racing world, I am very unhappy indeed about the premature death of Michele Alboreto. I didn't know him personally, but his career and his stature as a man spoke for themselves. I'm sure that Audi's safety structures are sound and that the Lausitzring is laid out as a safe circuit by modern standards. Nevertheless, Alboreto was killed while testing there, a sad and lonely death. Was it preventable? Can we learn from the loss of this fine driver? Only if the accident is well investigated and the results of that investigation are published will we know the answer.
To summarise: we need a more active and systematic effort to analyze racing accidents that cause death and injury to learn from them which measures can realistically be taken to reduce such injuries in the future. And, we should see more of an effort being made to apply to other racing series and circuits as many as possible of the improved safety methods that are being applied in Formula One.
A man doesn't lose his value when he leaves Formula One to compete in another racing series. Michele Alboreto was justifiably admired as a racing driver when he was in Formula One. His skills were just as highly valued when he was testing for and racing at Le Mans. Here is as good an example as we could ask of the need to make sure that the safety advances being made for Formula One are also applied to other cars and series as soon as the technology allows. I would like to see the FIA dedicate its efforts and its budgets toward this objective.
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