Formula 1 is the pinnacle of car racing and automotive technology. It is a matter of great honor for both drivers and constructors to win a Formula one race or championship. But with high speed entertainment come high level of risks. Many people have died at formula one events, especially in the early days of F1. Over the years the safety of drivers has improved and crashes are not as fatal as they used to be. Let’s look at some unfortunate F1 drivers who lost their lives on the track.
In 1973 in Netherlands during the Dutch Grand Prix, British rider for the STP March Racing Team, Roger Williamson suffered a puncture which flipped his car over. The car caught fire and due to a lack of training the marshals didn’t know how to extinguish the fire. Fellow British racer David Purley, stopped his own car and tried to singlehandedly save his friend. But the fire was too hot and the extinguishers couldn’t put it out. Williamson died of asphyxiation. The sad thing about this incident was that if certain things had been done better, he probably would have been saved.
Ronnie Peterson was the last Swedish racer to come close to winning the championship. In 1978 he could have won the championship if he hadn’t met his tragic death. In the Italian Grand Prix that year, there was a ten man crash right in the beginning because the race started before the cars had reached their respective positions at the grid. He was rescued from the fire by fellow drivers but he died in the hospital later that night due to a fat embolism caused by the bone marrow that leaked into his blood stream from his fractured bones.
Gilles Villeneuve was a famous French Canadian F1 driver but he never won the championship. In 1997 his son won the F1 championship which was an honor to his father’s name who died in 1982 during the qualifying session of the Belgian Grand Prix. Gilles touched the tires of Jochen Mass and his car went flying into the safety barrier. He was thrown out of the car and hit the barrier and later died due to a broken neck that he sustained on hitting the wire mesh barrier.
Wolfgang von Trips was on his way to become the first German F1 champion in 1961 when he died in one of the worst crashes in F1 history. This was the time before wings were introduced to keep the cars sticking to the road so when his car hit the back of Jim Clark’s car, he went flying into the audience and came back on to the track. He died in the crash along with 15 spectators. This is one of the worst F1 crashes in history.
Roland Ratzenberger was part of the worst weekend in F1 history also known as the Black weekend. On Friday, during practice Ruben Barrichello suffered a severe accident but luckily survived. Ayrton Senna died in the race on Sunday. And in the qualifying session on Saturday, the Austrian, Roland Ratzenberger crashed into a wall at 190 mph when his front wing broke and he couldn’t steer. His wing had broken in the previous lap but he decided to continue to get a good qualifying time in. He died due to a skull fracture caused by the whiplash of stopping so suddenly.
During the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, which was known as the Black weekend, Ayrton Senna died just 24 hours after the death of Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying. The Brazilian also crashed into a wall at 135 mph when he couldn’t negotiate a corner. He died of head injuries just like Roland. They found an Austrian flag in the car that Senna was carrying to raise after his win in honor of Roland. These two deaths on the same weekend caused a major overhaul of safety regulations of F1 and since then there have been no driver fatalities in F1.