In recent months, we have seen numerous accidents on the motorsports scene. To name a few, we've had Mark Webber getting airborne in the Valencian Formula One race, SEAT Leon Eurocup racer Francisco Carvalho managed to have his car launched into a spectator enclosure at Brands Hatch, and most recently, Superleague Formula driver Chris van der Drift had a horrible crash, again at Brands (pictured).
There have been other near misses too, most notably when Michael Schumacher somehow did not make contact with Rubens Barrichello in the Hungarian Formula One race.
Miraculously, only Chris van der Drift suffered injuries, and even these injuries were not life-threatening.
It's a given that all motorsports is dangerous, from the carting all the way up to Formula One. However, the events of recent weeks and months have set alarms off, which is normal in this sort of situation. When events like this happen, it is human nature to become curious and try and find answers.
So, how can you prevent accidents like these?
First, the cars. You could say they are becoming too advanced for certain categories. However, over the past decade, the safety of cars throughout all categories has improved significantly. They are put through numerous crash and stress tests. The majority of the car is designed to crumble to dissipate the energy of accidents. Then there's the monocoque, which is effectively a survival cell. While the rest of the car is designed to break, this is designed to withstand any force.
Look at the crashes of Webber and van der Drift. Once both the accidents had ended, you can see examples of the survival cell working, with both standing up well to the 150-plus mph accidents. You would do well to find anything wrong with the cars.
You could look at the tracks next. Most of the tracks utilized today are modern and incorporate massive safety features, like large run off areas made up of tarmac. Valencia's street circuit, despite claiming to be a "street track," incorporates these run-offs. Mark Webber's accident happened at the fastest part of the track, and the run-off at the corner after was designed with this in mind. If Webber's accident had happened at an "old school" street track like Monaco, where there are literally no run-offs, he might not have been so lucky.
In the case of Carvalho and van der Drift, both their crashes occurred at Brands Hatch, which is effectively one of the said "old school" circuits. Flowing through the British countryside, the barriers lie much closer to the track than other permanent circuits. The track also does not possess tarmac run-offs either. So, could the finger be pointed at tracks?
In theory, yes, it could. But all racing facilities must be inspected by FIA delegates, and they are subsequently given a grade. Certain grades allow up to a certain level of racing. For example, Grade 1 allows up to Formula One. Therefore, Brands has been inspected and given a license to host these types of racing. The facilities most tracks around the world are excellent, and Brands is no exception.
What else makes up a motor race? We have cars and tracks, which leaves one more factor left.
Recently, we have seen instances of driving standards declining, especially in the lower formula. However, the worrying thing is it is starting to make its way into the top levels of motorsport. Dangerous driving is on the up. Why that is, we do not know, but it is clear.
We've had Schumacher vs. Barrichello in Formula One. We've seen Brad Keselowski vs. Carl Edwards in NASCAR also. If these standards do not improve, people will get hurt, and ultimately it will be the fans or marshalls who will pay the price. They already have done, with a number of fans being injured because of debris from Keselowski's clash with Edwards at Talladega.
However, these sort of rivalries have opened up a new question. In recent years, the quality of the racing has declined, as the level of today's downforce has restricted overtaking. Battles don't come round too often, but when they do, drivers can end up punished for being too aggressive.
So, what must be done to ensure safe, clean, and entertaining racing? This decision is firmly down to the governing bodies to ensure the drivers can race, but in a less dangerous manner.
What the sport must not do is make any knee-jerk reactions. The likelihood of an accident as big happening to van der Drift or Webber in the manner that it did is pretty low, and even lower that the two would happen within a month or so of each other. It is unlikely we will see another crash like it again this season.
Therefore, the governing bodies should sit down for the last few months of the season and examine the facts, over the winter too if needs be. Then, for 2011 or 2012, begin letting the drivers know what's on or otherwise.
The headline can be seen on all tickets and around the track. Motorsport is dangerous. Accidents are to be expected. But the rate at which these accidents are occurring (or in the case of Schumacher and Barrichello, almost) is worrying. It is imperative to maintain good, clean racing that the fans so clearly deserve after years of stalemate.