Former F1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart has made an uncompromising call for young, successful drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen to help maintain the sport’s impressive safety record.
He says the gap of nearly 14 years since a driver was killed has led to complacency – and that, when a serious accident inevitably happens, the current crop of youngsters will be unable to deal with the consequences.
His remarks come because neither Hamilton nor Raikkonen is a member of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association – an organisation which works to keep driver safety at the top of the FIA agenda.
Founded in 1961, and coming to increased prominence after the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in which Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger were killed, and Rubens Barrichello badly injured, it acts as a union for Formula One drivers.
Its current chairman and directors are Pedro de la Rosa, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.
The safety issue is a hot one right now, with the removal of driver aids already offering a lively start to the racing season, and the sport’s first ever night race planned for Singapore in September.
No circuit is currently set up for night racing – which means no driver has experience of it, or the opportunity to acquire that experience.
Sir Jackie, almost single-handedly responsible for making safety a priority in the sport, said: “Somebody is going to get killed. It has been 13 years and 11 months since the death of Ayrton Senna. It is like an air crash. You can’t go without something going wrong somewhere.
“And somebody will die. The moment somebody dies there is a new awakening. It is going to be a big shock to this fraternity.
“These guys don’t know how to deal with a death. They have never seen it. They have never been up close. They have never been to a body when it is still in the car, never had to identify a body, never had to pack that person’s clothes because the wife or the girlfriend can’t face it. I pray to God they never do have to learn that.
“But the law of averages says that when you are doing 200mph, millimetres apart with mechanical failure or human error, you are going to have an accident. Nowadays that’s a plane crash. So far we have been incredibly lucky. We are on the slate to have a big shunt.”
He called on Hamilton to use his current popularity for the good of all drivers.
“It is wrong and complacent of Lewis not to be involved. You have to prioritise your time. He might have to do commercial appearances for Hugo Boss or whoever, but nobody did more of that than I did. That’s why I got mononucleosis, and a duodenal ulcer.
“The drivers are the ones out there doing it. When you are out there and somebody tells you that, for example, the barriers at Monza do not need to be further from the chicane than they are now, they don’t understand that an interlocking wheel suddenly launches a car in the air and you come down upside down on the top of the barrier.
“That’s how Francois Cevert was killed. Francois was cut in half. If you have ever seen that you want the barrier further back.
“That is why the GPDA is important and why Lewis should be in it.”
Hamilton was reportedly asked in Melbourne to explain his stance on the GPDA. He said: “I had so much going on last year and the same is true now.
“If you’re part of an important organisation you have to be committed and I really don’t have time for that at the moment.”