June 10, 2013. Sad beyond words. Death is always unacceptable. Death in a high profile sport is shocking, and alas by its nature motor racing too often grabs headlines for fatalities. The motorsport world was deeply saddened to learn of the death of a marshal during race day at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
As a fan of the sport for the past three decades I have witnessed far too many deaths in this sport, many very close to home. Every time it is absolutely unacceptable. Everyone involved in motorsport will have deep empathy with the fate of the marshal who was crushed to death while retrieving a damaged and stranded car late on in the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
An FIA statement described the incident: “The worker, a member of the Automobile Club de l’Ile Notre Dame, was the victim of an unfortunate accident that occurred at the end of this afternoon’s Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada. The worker was helping to recover a car which had stopped during the race. The recovery vehicle had lifted the car to return it to the pits and while doing this the worker dropped his radio and attempted to pick it up. As he did this, he stumbled and was hit and run over by the recovery vehicle.”
Perhaps even a ‘freak’ accident, but that’s the nature of emergency work — expect the unexpected to happen and more often than not it does. In this instance it did yet again. This is what motor racing marshals subject themselves to each and every weekend when they mostly volunteer their services to oversee the safety of racing drivers around the globe. On the biggest stage, and in the limelight of a grand prix marshals do exactly what their counterparts do at even a small club meeting in the middle of nowhere.
Their involvement is invariably because of sheer passion for the sport, as very few are paid to do the job. Marshals are among the first to arrive at a race day or a motor racing event and the last to leave, while spending the time in-between thoroughly focused on the action around them because when something goes wrong, in their designated area, they are called into action. That action could mean anything from a quick sprint across the track to pick up a wayward piece of debris to extricating a trapped driver and everything imaginable within that spectrum. For this specialised training is essential and again done on their own accord and, more often than not, at their own expense.
Without marshals motor racing would simply not exist. They are the proverbial unsung heroes of the sport, and when one is killed on the job it impacts the whole of motorsport and everyone in it.
Granted, motorsport has become immensely safe over the years. Tracks are lined with fencing and protected areas. Cars are safer than ever before and medical recovery is invariably of the highest order. Compared to last century fatalities have been greatly reduced, but they will always occur as motor racing is dangerous and it says so on the tin.
Retrievals of the kind that led to the fatality in Montreal are common place and regular on any given race day anywhere in the world. In this instance the marshal’s radio fell, he attempted to pick it up and got hit by the recovery vehicle. How do you prevent such a scenario from happening again?
Tough call to make, and perhaps no training can prevent such an eventuality. I am sure the FIA will thoroughly will study all elements of the incident and perhaps even implement subtle, below the radar changes. No doubt there will be much soul searching and investigation of what happened at the Canadian Grand Prix. At first glance, and subject to early reports, I personally put the incident down to fate and a huge amount of bad luck. The last fatality in F1 was when marshal Graham Beveridge, was killed at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix when he was struck by a tyre that flew through a gap in the safety fencing after Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher had collided.
I know that everyone in our world of motorsport are shocked and deeply sadden by the tragedy, where yet another unsung hero has succumbed to the perils of our beautiful yet cruel sport. Every time there is a death in motor racing, we are all the poorer and saddened beyond words.
The writer is the head of corporate communications at Dubai Autodrome llc.