The heavenly grid has grown again

The ranks of the heavenly grid have swollen somewhat this week with the arrivals of Guy Ligier, Justin Wilson, Eric Thompson and Roger Keele, racers all, if of differing eras.

The loss of Justin following his IndyCar crash is a stark reminder that motor sport is still dangerous and always will be, but the fact that his loss is such a shock brings into contrast the fact that his three companions on the hillclimb to heaven all died of natural causes having survived racing in the fifties through into the seventies between them, an era where death on the track was commonplace. That Eric, Guy and Roger were able to race, survive and retire to enjoy the test of their lives was something that many of their peers were denied: Once he had become a constructor Guy Ligier’s cars were given a type number prefix of JS in honour of his fellow contryman and team mate Jo Schlesser who died in the 1968 French GP.

Justin Wilson died because he was hit by debris that had flown off another car that had crashed (as did Henry Surtees and so nearly did Filipe Massa). Going back Mike Spence and Ayrton Senna, amongst others, died after being hit by debris from their own cars as they crashed. In the latter cases improvements were made to stop things coming off the cars, but surley it is time to start thinking about the same principles for car bodywork?

Rather than just looking at ways of protecting the drivers from flying debris why not reduce the risk of debris by removing much of the aerodynamic bodywork? It would also improve the racing and bring back a level of driver input, or car control if you prefer, that would also take away some of the problems of cut tyres from minor contact with razor sharp aerofoils. It would also reduce the risk of bodywork flying off into the crowds.

We learn by things going wrong and motor sport has come a long way since Eric Thompson finished third at Le Mans back in 1951 and racing to fifth in the British GP the following year. Closed cockpits in F1 may seem an anathema to many, but maybe they will be necessary. Even so removing a major cause of debris would be a better solution.

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