In motorsport it is easy to get taken up by the spectacle, the sport and the drama and this is fantastic until, occasionally, something brings the whole house of cards down with a sickening thud.

I am, of course, talking about Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli who recently lost their lives in racing incidents. They are real tragedies for the sport and question the nature of the game that these racers play every time they go to work.

…was carving an impressive career…

A terrible loss

Dan Wheldon was 33 when he took to the track at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IndyCar series. He had won the Indy500 twice and was carving an impressive career in US open-wheeled racing.

The race was cut short by a horrific crash involving 15 cars at incredibly high speeds in which Wheldon sustained injuries from which he did not recover. IndyCar racing has often been criticised for its safety record – it is an oval-racing series with cars travelling at over 200km per hour in close proximity to each other.

…contact at speed a potentially catastrophic event… 

The fact that the cars have exposed wheels makes contact at speed a potentially catastrophic event and the sports regulators had been under pressure to improve the cars safety systems. The sad irony was that Dan had been advocating, promoting and testing the new safety systems which are due to come into place next season.

Marco Simoncelli took to the Sepang circuit racing for the Honda Gresini team. He was 24 and was widely considered to be the most exciting and promising rider on the MotoGP grid. He had gained a reputation for a maverick attitude on the track and a thoroughly likeable and cheerful demeanour off it.

…remained a popular favourite with the fans… 

Other riders had criticised his gung-ho approach and he had been involved in a number of incidents earlier in the season but he remained a popular favourite with the fans and was widely acknowledged to be a replacement to Valentino Rossi in terms of his attitude, his pace and his flair.

He had two 250cc championships under his belt and was destined for great things. He had recently achieved his first pole position start and his first podium finish.

…margin of error was so slim… 

Accidents do happen in this type of sport

He was involved in an incident with two other riders and sustained injuries which later proved fatal. The margin of error was so slim and the incident, if minutely different, could have resulted in another innocuous fall for the flamboyant Italian but in this instance it proved tragic.

Both Wheldon and Simoncelli knew that they were taking their life into their own hands when they raced. Every racer knows that no kind of safety regulation is impenetrable and that if they wanted perfect safety they could easily not race. These people do it because they have a real passion for it and live to be on the edge.

…the last man to die in F1 racing,

Many who knew Ayrton Senna, the last man to die in F1 racing, have argued that he would probably have raced if he knew that the race would be his last. All racers will have had crashes in their career but, as Mark Webber said: “When the helmet goes on, you don’t think about the negative stuff. You race hard.”

Until racing is outlawed it will always be dangerous and tragic accidents will occur. All that the drivers and riders can ask is that it is made as safe as possible without impairing the sport. IndyCar should be made safer, the cars should be made stronger and crash protection should be improved but it is impossible to cover any eventuality.

…they should be mourned and praised…

Dan and Marco will be sorely missed, their deaths are horrific and they should be mourned and praised for the incredible work that they did. Lessons should be learned and measures implemented but there are scores of men who will stand up to the plate, knowing the risks and prepared to take them.

The world of motorsport will take stock and honour them but will ultimately continue. These men died doing what they love and neither would want these freak incidents to prevent others following in their footsteps.

Images courtesy of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli


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