For­mula 1 was once a sport that dealt with the death of its he­roes as an almost rou­tine oc­cur­rence. Yet the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences of the seem­ingly in­nocu­ous, non­rac­ing, ac­ci­dent that be­fell Michael Schu­macher have en­cour­aged the F1 com­mu­nity to re­flect on

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

The F1 com­mu­nity pauses to re­flect and strug­gles to make sense of Michael Schu­macher’s ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent

One rainy Mon­day morn­ing in 1968, I was sit­ting in our house in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, when my lit­tle tran­sis­tor ra­dio changed my life for­ever: “Scot­tish rac­ing driver Jim Clark was killed yes­ter­day, in a mo­tor-rac­ing ac­ci­dent in Hock­en­heim, Ger­many. Clark, a dou­ble world cham­pion, left the road in a wooded area….”

Then, in what seemed like a night­mare that would blight my ado­les­cence, it was Mike Spence, Lu­dovico Scarfiotti, Lu­cien Bianchi, Bruce McLaren, Piers Courage, Jochen Rindt, Pe­dro Ro­dríguez, Jo Sif­fert, François Cev­ert…

I moved to the UK to work as a jour­nal­ist. By the time I was 30, I had been to 15 fu­ner­als. I knew Tom Pryce well. We al­ways had a laugh. I ew back to Eng­land the day he died, with Nella, his widow, sit­ting just a row in front of me in the SAA 747. The jumbo bumped and plum­meted its way through a thun­der­storm. It seemed like the end of my world. Or was there some­thing else? Roger Wil­liamson, Brian McGuire, F3 racer Juanito Cam­pos, Pa­trick De­pailler, Ste­fan Bellof; I knew them all well. Gun­nar Nils­son, too – and of course John Thomp­son, the pho­tog­ra­pher who was killed driv­ing out of Ri­card after a test, and dear Rus­sell Bulgin, my col­league and jour­nal­is­tic su­pe­rior. In 1975, Mark Dono­hue drove me around the Nür­bur­gring in his black Porsche 911 only a cou­ple of weeks be­fore he died in Aus­tria fol­low­ing a tyre fail­ure on his March. Alan Henry

and I flew out of that race in a lit­tle twin-en­gined Cessna – out into the Alps in the midst of another gi­ant thun­der­storm. Gra­ham Hill was ying the plane ahead of us, and ten min­utes into the ight we heard his voice over the R/T: “May­day, may­day…” And then one of the en­gines failed on our plane. The Cessna dived to the right, the young pi­lot strug­gling to re­gain con­trol of it. My fresh-air vent, I vividly re­mem­ber, was jammed open. My clothes were soaked through from watch­ing the race. My teeth rat­tled as I shiv­ered help­lessly in my seat. Again I was com­pelled to ask that ques­tion: “Is there some­thing more than this? Could this hor­ror story be put into the con­text of some­thing greater – of some­thing more log­i­cal?”

It went on. Three months later came the news that Gra­ham, the bril­liant Tony Brise, Tony Al­cock (another good friend), Terry Richards, Andy Small­man and Ray Brim­ble had all lost their lives in an air crash.

I chat­ted to Ron­nie Peter­son after Satur­day prac­tice at Monza in 1978. He squeezed up in the open boot of his Rolls Royce, me, the jour­nal­ist, quizzing him about the 1979 ground-ef­fect McLaren. The next day he was sit­ting up on a stretcher, right in front of me at the crash site, as they car­ried him to an am­bu­lance.

“Oh no. Not another one,” cried Colin Chap­man, run­ning to­wards me. “His vi­tal signs are okay,” I said quickly. “Bad leg in­juries, for sure, but he was sit­ting up and look­ing around.”

It was on Mon­day morn­ing, as I was checkingin at Li­nate Air­port in Mi­lan, that John Glover of Cham­pion Spark Plugs broke the news. “Haven’t you heard? Ron­nie died in the night. There was some sort of com­pli­ca­tion with a blood clot…”

In the Tri­dent on the way home, my thoughts were only of the fragility of life and of whether it was all worth it. I’d read Faster! A Racer’s Di­ary, the book Peter Manso had writ­ten with Jackie Ste­wart, in which Jackie talks emotionally about the day after the 1970 Ital­ian Grand Prix, when he was back in London, be­gin­ning to re­build his life after the death of Jochen Rindt. So it was with Ron­nie. At Heathrow a news board barked out the head­line: “Ron­nie Peter­son dead”. I needed to nd some respite.

The el­e­gant Elio De An­ge­lis was killed at a Ri­card test with my friend Nigel Mansell do­ing all he could to reach into the ames to draw him clear. In March 1986, I was sit­ting along­side Frank Wil­liams when we veered from a French coun­try road one sunny Satur­day af­ter­noon. I rolled my­self up into a ball be­fore im­pact. Frank con­tin­ued to ght the wheel and took a blow, fully ver­ti­cal, through the spine. I was bruised but ne; Frank was ren­dered quad­ri­plegic.

Gilles Vil­leneuve, Roland Ratzen­berger, Jeff Kros­noff, and many, many more. I stayed with it be­cause, I guess, it is hu­man na­ture to push our­selves to the limit in what­ever we choose to do. And I had, and have, noth­ing but to­tal re­spect for those who were and are out there, tak­ing the real risks. Slowly, though, ac­ci­dent by ac­ci­dent, I be­gan to un­der­stand that what makes us ul­ti­mately ful­filled isn’t just some­thing like mo­tor rac­ing; it’s what we do with our lives as a whole.

Our hopes and prayers are with Michael. What we know, though, given the above, is that th­ese days in For­mula 1, the rac­ing goes on. We still do what we do. We still laugh, we still get an­noyed by se­cu­rity checks at air­ports. We still go rac­ing, lux­u­ri­at­ing in the safety of to­day’s cars and cir­cuits. We still spray the cham­pagne. We still start again on Mon­day morn­ings. Yet Michael is there in the back­ground of our com­bined sub­con­scious­ness, – a re­minder of what can hap­pen in a mil­lisec­ond. We send him let­ters and cards and we post mes­sages on our web­sites and on the F1 cars them­selves.

I know it has made me think more deeply about the mean­ing of my own life, prompt­ing me to seek my own an­swers to ques­tions to which the tra­di­tional re­sponses have, in some cases, been un­sat­is­fac­tory. What are we think­ing as we try to trans­mit pos­i­tive en­ergy to Michael as a For­mula 1 com­mu­nity? Are we do­ing this for our­selves, to make our­selves feel bet­ter? Or are we sub­lim­i­nally aware, amid the neb­u­lous lay­ers of F1 life, that there is some higher be­ing out there who will lis­ten and just might help? I don’t re­call F1 ever be­ing so close to ‘delv­ing within’. We’ve all had months now to think about Michael and won­der how it is that freak ac­ci­dents like this can oc­cur to some­one so spe­cial after a ca­reer so daz­zling.

It was not long after we’d lost IndyCar racer Scott Bray­ton, who was killed dur­ing prac­tice for the 1996 Indy 500, that I met Dr Joan LaRo­vere via a mu­tual friend at Mi­nardi. I was very sad – as we al­ways are, of course, when another driver is lost in some sense­less ac­ci­dent. I didn’t know Scott that well – but I’d seen enough of him, both in and out of a car, to know he was a bril­liant oval driver and a cour­te­ous, dig­ni­fied hu­man be­ing. Then he was gone. One minute we were hav­ing a laugh at an Indy cock­tail party; the next I was wip­ing away the tears.

Joan is a spe­cial­ist in heart surgery, for chil­dren. She was work­ing out of Great Or­mond Street at the time, then the Royal Brompton, and she now works at Bos­ton Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. She knew the F1 world, through friends; she also knew death. When I met her, on any given week she was op­er­at­ing on ve to six very sick kids. On a good week she’d save three of them.

I was as­tounded by her for­ti­tude and gen­eral sense of calm. Most of my friends had died do­ing some­thing they had cho­sen to do: Joan’s lit­tle pa­tients had had no say in the mat­ter.

The world has both doc­tors and rac­ing driv­ers, I know – and it also has mo­tor rac­ing en­thu­si­asts, like me. Each has a dif­fer­ent na­ture and each has dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances within its own life. All are com­pat­i­ble – but mo­tor rac­ing is just a part of it. I be­gan to put my life into some sort of con­text. “How do you cope?” I asked Joan. “How can you keep do­ing that, week after week?”

“Be­cause I’m lucky enough to have been given this op­por­tu­nity to learn and to work,” she said. “And be­cause I know that death isn’t the end. I know that the soul lives on. I know that a higher power – or what­ever you want to call the cre­ator of ev­ery­thing we know – is just.”

I had been raised in an Angli­can-ori­en­tated fam­ily, even though we’d lived in Aus­tralia. I was a be­liever in the sense that I at­tended church when I could, prayed when some­thing bad seemed to be hap­pen­ing, tried to re­mem­ber to be thank­ful and at­tempted – usu­ally with­out much

suc­cess – to be ‘a good per­son’. Like most peo­ple, though, I’d never re­ally found the an­swer to the peren­nial ques­tion: if God ex­ists, and is just, then how can lit­tle chil­dren die of heart fail­ure? Worse, I’d spent so much time in F1 that I now had an in­grained belief that money, power, ego, gossip, back-stab­bing and gen­eral ma­te­ri­al­is­tic thirst were the in­evitable prod­uct of cap­i­tal­in­ten­sive sport. It had be­come a way of life. We over­came tragedy by forg­ing on to the next race, sit­ting and chat­ting in the ho­tel lob­bies and ‘re­turn­ing to re­al­ity’ as the cars left the pit­lane for yet another lap. That is how it works to­day, as I say, even as we think of Michael.

Mo­tor rac­ing, I’ve come to re­alise, isn’t re­ally very dif­fer­ent from any other hu­man en­deav­our. There are peo­ple in ev­ery eld imag­in­able, who are sim­i­larly back-stab­bing, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic and in search of power, and ev­ery one of us has the abil­ity to lose sight of time-hon­oured hu­man val­ues: ethics and the other di­men­sions of life can eas­ily be for­got­ten.

“You don’t think there is an in­ner be­ing to your ex­is­tence?” Joan would ask me, talk­ing not to a philoso­pher but to your ba­sic F1 per­son want­ing sim­ple, log­i­cal an­swers. “Then an­swer me this. What do you think of when you pic­ture some­one – liv­ing or dead? Do you think of esh and bones or do you think of the per­son – the smile, the thoughts, the pres­ence?” “The per­son, I guess,” I would re­ply. “Ah,” she would say. “The in­ner be­ing. The soul. Sci­ence has spent very lit­tle time fo­cused on what I would call true spir­i­tu­al­ity. Some tests have proved that the hu­man body ac­tu­ally loses weight at death, as the soul departs. If we had spent as much time over the past 2,000 years try­ing to un­der­stand the work­ings of our in­ner be­ing, then I’m sure we’d all be much fur­ther down the path.”

She elab­o­rated on this: “Why shouldn’t we ap­ply mod­ern tech­nol­ogy – sci­ence – to try to un­der­stand the way for­ward? If you want to drive around London you don’t use a road map from 1824 – or 32 AD. You use the most mod­ern tech­nol­ogy avail­able. And so it is with life.”

I asked Joan again about how she came to terms with death. “I think that death is just a step to­wards an on­go­ing ex­is­tence,” she replied. “I think all the great re­li­gions agree on this. I truly be­lieve it. Life is about learn­ing – about lis­ten­ing to your conscience – your in­ner self – and about mak­ing cor­rect choices. To con­tinue the anal­ogy, I want to try to de­velop some sort of road map for my next life.”

Joan never fails to im­press me, with her sense of tran­quil­lity. “When you put life into the per­spec­tive of learn­ing from ev­ery­thing we do, and of try­ing to ap­ply the cor­rect time-hon­oured eth­i­cal prin­ci­pals to life as it moves around us, then you start to op­er­ate at a level where noth­ing ei­ther overly ex­cites or de­presses you. Again, this is some­thing that is very hard to achieve – but it is a goal. I could lose my job, my hus­band, my chil­dren all in a day. They could all dis­ap­pear in an in­stant. And so I must think ahead – think also of the next life even as I’m liv­ing my life ev­ery day.”

So here it was: a highly skilled, ra­tio­nal pro­fes­sional show­ing me that she could also be highly spir­i­tual. Surely, I, too, as an F1 per­son, could be spir­i­tual and eth­i­cal – al­beit in a dif­fer­ent way – in my own life?

“So how does it work in the real world?” I asked her. “How do you think? How do you get through the day?”

“I try to re­mem­ber the key ethics – to re­spect the rights of oth­ers at all times; to per­form my du­ties and to re­spect my per­sonal rights; and to be as kind as I can to other peo­ple. I stress that th­ese are my goals. Liv­ing up to them all the time would be im­pos­si­ble.”

It’s true. In a sport as ma­te­ri­al­is­tic as F1 it’s very dif­fi­cult not to be caught up in gossip and envy and jeal­ousy and ev­ery­thing else that the web­sites and the mo­torhome cof­fee ar­eas en­gen­der – but we can reach a point, I think, where we come to ac­cept ev­ery­thing that hap­pens around us as some­thing from which we can learn (rather than as things that may cause shock or de­pres­sion or even ridicu­lous highs). Ev­ery­thing Joan spoke about – and still speaks about – makes sense to me. It’s not a ques­tion of “Do you be­lieve in a unique cre­ator?” It’s more a ques­tion of “Let’s think about this as F1 peo­ple are very good at think­ing about things. Michael’s ac­ci­dent has given us the spark.”

I have tried over the years to talk to key F1 peo­ple about their thoughts on the ex­is­tence of some­thing that we can call the soul – about some­thing that lives on beyond the fragility of the hu­man body – and the re­sults have been in­ter­est­ing. Max Mosley and Keith Duck­worth were adamant that “this is all there is” – to which I would say, “yes, but what is ‘ this’?” And so it would go on… Ron Den­nis thought for a while and said: “I’m not sure whether the next life ex­ists or not, but if it does I’d like to think I’ve qualied…” And Paddy Lowe was sure: “I think there is some­thing else. I don’t know what, but I think it’s there.” Most peo­ple I know tend to chor­tle fash­ion­ably at Amer­i­can golfers when they thank god for their lat­est win, or at Lewis Hamil­ton when he speaks or tweets about his spir­i­tual be­liefs. But I won­der how th­ese same peo­ple think about life’s in­iq­ui­ties and about Michael now.

Me? I need con­stantly to be re­minded that I need Him much more than He needs me, so Hamil­ton’s tweets about the un­ex­pected sight of churches just around the next cor­ner in São Paulo, ex­otic mosques in Kuala Lumpur, shrines in Suzuka and even car-bumper stick­ers in Austin are more than wel­come to my lit­tle world. I’m more cau­tious, though, about re­li­gions that are in any way fu­elled by money or power or dogma. I don’t re­ally un­der­stand them. ‘Re­li­gion’ for me now means much less than ‘spir­i­tu­al­ity’.

The usual way was to for­get about F1’s vi­o­lent deaths, to move on and then to have the in­evitable laugh: “we’re still here!” But things for me to­day are dif­fer­ent. We don’t want to for­get about Michael. We all need to con­front what’s hap­pened. Which means that there’s a chance, right now, for the F1 world to delve a lit­tle deeper. I know that my sport can make us bet­ter hu­man be­ings if we dig deep inside our­selves and seek the truth of life when calamity strikes. The proof comes when we all treat one another with a lit­tle more kind­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion – when we cel­e­brate F1 while re­mem­ber­ing that there’s more to life than merely the world around us.

Call it Michael’s legacy.

















Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.