Sunday March 4th, 2001
An Australian Grand Prix marshal died and seven spectators were injured after they were struck by flying debris during the first race of the Formula One season on Sunday.
The dead man, whose name was withheld, was apparently struck by a wheel that flew off Jacques Villeneuve's BAR car when the Canadian crashed early in the race in an accident that also involved Ralf Schumacher.
However, race officials were unable to confirm the cause of death while the accident was being investigated.
The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) said the man, who was around 50 years of age, was from Queensland and died in hospital after being transported from the circuit in an ambulance.
CAMS chief executive Peter Hansen also said seven spectators had been treated at the scene for minor injuries but none were seriously hurt.
"We are not aware of exactly what the injuries were and we don't know what he was hit with but he was a track marshal," Hansen said.
Villeneuve's BAR flew at speed into safety fences, scattering debris across the track and losing its wheels.
Decision to Race on Defended
Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker defended the organisers' decision not to stop the race.
"Well it's not up to me to stop the race, it's up to the officials to look after that," Walker said.
"The track is inspected every day. We have a certificate to run the race and we do comply with all the rules and regulations.
"If you want to build a concrete wall right around the track, you won't have any spectators."
It was the second time in six months that a marshal had been killed at a Formula One race.
Italian Paolo Gislimberti died at Monza last September when he was hit by flying debris in the first fatality suffered by Formula One at a circuit since the death of Brazilian world champion Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.
News of the volunteer marshal's death completely overshadowed the opening race of the season and there was no champagne sprayed on the podium and no celebrations among the drivers.
Ferrari race winner Michael Schumacher said: "Obviously we are all shocked about this. Certainly everyone is very much down for the situation."
Briton David Coulthard, who was runner-up in the race in a McLaren, offered condolences to the marshal's family and said his race was insignificant in the context of a life lost.
"We need obviously to study how we can improve track safety for these people who give their time for us to enable us to go racing," said the Scot.
Ralf Schumacher said he and Villeneuve had been lucky they were not also injured in the crash:
"It's only thanks to the safety level of our cars that nothing bad happened to either of us," he said.
"After I got out of my car I had a look in the cockpit of the BAR which was almost destroyed and I was glad to know that Jacques had already stepped out of it."
BAR team principal Craig Pollock said there was a deep sense of shock in the paddock.
"I would just like to send my sincere condolences to the family," he said, "There was not much we can say because we don't know the full circumstances about the accident."