Whose life is it any­way?

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

story sup­ports his the­ory. Some­one has to ap­ply lim­its if we can’t do it our­selves. The seat-belt law is a case in point. Peo­ple didn’t like be­ing told what to do with their lives, but they have no idea of what re­ally hap­pens in an ac­ci­dent. They would un­doubt­edly change their view if they, or one of their loved ones, were to go through the wind­screen.

For­mula 1 used to be a blood sport. Drivers reg­u­larly died hor­ri­bly vi­o­lent deaths. This had to stop. I’d like to think it had to stop be­cause we all felt it was morally un­ten­able, not be­cause we feared los­ing busi­ness through gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion to re­strict our free­dom to kill our­selves in front of mil­lions of peo­ple. But let’s sup­pose for a sec­ond that F1 was 100 per cent safe. Would it be worth watch­ing? As some­one who can’t watch those home videos of old ladies fall­ing off swings with­out winc­ing, I hap­pen to be­lieve it would. But would it be as ex­cit­ing to watch? That’s an­other ques­tion.

My fa­ther raced in the most bloody pe­riod of mo­tor­sport. It was grim. Not pretty at all. I also ex­pe­ri­enced the Imola tragedy rst-hand. If there was any way of bring­ing back those drivers, we would do it in a heart­beat. There is no benet to pre­ma­ture death. The pain it inicted and the shock to all in­volved in our sport, and in­deed to the fans, was mas­sive. I was a pall­bearer at Ayr­ton’s fu­neral. When I see shots of this gen­er­a­tion of drivers car­ry­ing Jules’ cofn I know how pow­er­ful that ex­pe­ri­ence can be.

But here is the crux of the prob­lem. The ar­gu­ment against los­ing risk says that if you take dan­ger out of mo­tor­sport you change its fun­da­men­tal na­ture, and in do­ing so you change its ap­peal. You get a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence and you get dif­fer­ent types of drivers, not dare­dev­ils, not free-spir­its who want to spend their life liv­ing the way they want. The em­pha­sis shifts to skill over brav­ery. And there is no is­sue in that. Most other sports involve skill only. But isn’t brav­ery also a kind of skill?

We marvel at those who can con­trol fear. It is one of the great­est tests we can face as vul­ner­a­ble mor­tal crea­tures. Do we not think that it is also part of our sport to let drivers show this skill of theirs? I think so. But anyone who thinks that sit­ting in a rac­ing car, no mat­ter how well pro­tected, will not involve huge courage and skill does not un­der­stand what these guys do for their money. Even with pro­tec­tion, the risks will still be signicant.

The only im­por­tant thing for me is that ev­ery driver get­ting into a rac­ing car has un­der­stood and ac­cepted the risks in­volved. Im­plic­itly they do this by get­ting into their car at ev­ery race. But what might be bet­ter is if they make it clear to ev­ery­one that they have will­ingly cho­sen to do this thing, come what may, and that they fully un­der­stand the risks. This used to be a reg­u­lar part of a driver’s weekend, ex­plain­ing to journalists why they thought the risks were worth it. We should re­spect and ad­mire them for choos­ing to race, but the au­di­ence should also be left in no doubt about what they are watch­ing. Maybe our sport should carry a warning to view­ers: ‘What you are about to see could involve in­jury or death. These drivers are ex­treme pro­fes­sion­als who un­der­stand the con­se­quences. Don’t try this your­self.’ It might even put a few more bums on seats.

• For more on the safety de­bate, turn to our fea­ture about halos and canopies on 60

Is it morally wrong to deny pro­tec­tion once it has been shown to be vi­able, or is it up to the drivers to make their own choices?

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