Stewart: F1 safety crucialposted in F127 | 10 | 2011

    SCOTLAND'S MOST SUCCESSFUL Formula One racer, Sir Jackie Stewart, believes the sport cannot take safety for granted. The three-times world champ was speaking following the IndyCar crash which claimed the life of Dan Wheldon.

    Stewart, who pioneered much of today's F1 safety standards when he pushed for dramatic improvements through the late Sixties and early Seventies, emphasised the interlocking of wheels remains one of the sports' biggest problems

    While that was pivotal in Wheldon's high-speed crash, it was also a main contributor to the accident in Valencia last year when Mark Webber's Red Bull became airborne after it ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus.

    "I think the fact that it is actually two weeks since that accident, may have just allowed the steam to settle," Stewart, who believes F1 should look at the issue "very seriously", said today at the new Buddh International Circuit which will host this weekend's Indian Grand Prix.

    "There isn't the absolute reaction that there would have been had there been racing the next day, but nevertheless they have to look at it very seriously because it could happen at any time.

    "The interlocking wheel situation is the biggest issue, so if we can find something that doesn't look too soft, in the sense of taking away the opportunity of the front left getting between the right front and rear of the car that is beside you, that would help. That is where the problem lies.

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    "To be frank with you, we have seen more collisions and coming together in F1 in the last two years than I have seen probably ever.

    "It is not just Webber's accident, I am thinking of. It is the situation we have seen – the collisions we have seen. It means people are taking things for granted. In our days we would never have collisions because the dynamics of the accident were so consistently obvious that everybody says you cannot do that.

    "Now they are doing it and getting off with it, so they think it is okay to take that chance. That might wake then up. It is a huge risk, if you start getting close to another car and he moves over, then it can be the kiss of death.

    "Dan Wheldon's crash will have opened the eyes of many drivers to the face that so many cars got into the air. And because of the speed, even though we have a fantastic fuel cells now, the explosion and the fire caused there – not just with one car; the force, the impact, the vapour was exploding – it can happen to everybody.

    "So I think everyone has to stop the bus, and have a real careful look about what comes next and they need to have experts on it – from the sport as well as outside the sport. In many ways it was an aircraft accident.

    "The interlocking wheel situation we have, it is beginning to get to F1. There are too many drivers kissing wheels, and thinking that is okay, it is no big deal.

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    "Well, it is a big deal because you only need to be centimetres wrong, and the interlocking wheels can be like a gear because one wheel is going one way, the right hand wheel is going the other, and incidents like we saw with Mark Webber in Valencia last year, it only takes one wheel to come off and hit a drivers' head like happened to Henry Surtees.

    "He was nothing to do with the original accident, he wasn't involved. But the debris is travelling at such speed, and it is only when you think of something like that and the freak accident, and there are one or two deaths that frankly anything is done about it.

    "So we have to look at it very careful and not just say, 'oh well, with the law of averages we are due to have a big accident'. It really has to be really well analysed in terms of what we do next.

    "I still believe the drivers should have a bigger say with regards to safety with the governing body. The drivers are the ones out there.

    "At the end of the day, the driver is behind the wheel and he knows how far the car will go, when it starts to get in the air. They have been there, and whether it comes down in a barrier or over the barrier is just the luck of the draw."

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    Jim McGill


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