Minute's silence for Anthoine Hubert, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019

Why the latest motorsport fatality is so hard to comprehend

2019 F1 season

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The FIA has begun its investigation into Saturday’s horrific Formula 2 crash which claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert and left another driver, Juan Manuel Correa, in intensive care with serious injuries.

Questions of how the crash unfolded, whether it could have been avoided, and how the safety systems and procedures at the circuit performed, will be answered in the fullness of time. We must postpone our urge to understand what happened until all the facts are in.

That does not make it any easier to comprehend how this grave tragedy occured. Particularly as it happened not in the top flight of Formula 1, nor even in the still more perilous world of IndyCar’s superspeedways, but a junior championship for those aspiring to reach the sport’s pinnacle. That undoubtedly amplified its emotional impact, particularly for those closest to the tragedy.

Hubert drove for Arden, the team run by Garry Horner, father of the Red Bull team principal. Christian Horner was also connected to the crash through Pierre Gasly, who had been a friend of Hubert’s since childhood.

“Obviously what happened was a shock for the whole paddock, for both of our drivers who raced against Anthoine at different points, but particularly for Pierre,” said Horner. “They’d grown up together they raced for many years together, their families know each other extremely well. I think it hit him very hard.

“All I could do was try and offer some kind of support, say that Anthoine was doing exactly what he wanted to do and if he had the opportunity to be racing the Formula 1 car you’re in tomorrow he would have grabbed that opportunity with both hands.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Gasly was among those close to Hubert
“It brings home to everybody that risks exist not just in Formula 1 but across all the categories of motorsport and single-seater racing. It was a horrible day for motorsport in general, particularly for his family, for his loved ones, for his friends and for the Arden team I’m obviously closely associated to. It was a tough day for everybody.”

On Saturday evening Lewis Hamilton said he felt not everyone had fully appreciated the risks of motorsport. He wrote on social media that fans and “some of the people actually working in the sport” did not respect that “drivers put their life on the line when they hit the track”.

Forgive him a broad generalisation in a social media post at a stressful time. Many fans undoubtedly do appreciate the sport’s dangers. But he has a point that not everyone does.

His team principal Toto Wolff, formerly a GT racer, offered one view why. “I think it’s very difficult to relate to what’s happening in a car if you have never driven a race car at these speeds,” he said.

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“Whether it is in the junior formula, all the way to Formula 1, in GT cars or prototypes, it is still a gladiators’ sport. It is still about courage, ability, risk-taking. But through a camera lens you will never realise what it feels like.”

Modern onboard cameras, which produce much smoother, more refined images than the raw, brutal footage from a few decades ago, certainly can make driving an F1 car look like cruising along a motorway. It was striking that after the race two F1 drivers shared the same video on social media of a static camera angle which gave a much better impression of the true speed of the cars than those we are used to.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2019
Hamilton and others joined Hubert’s family before the race
But modern fans probably spend even more time connecting with the sport through the official Formula 1 game. And here, too, the true dangers of the sport are hard to appreciate. Whereas once F1 games showed cars flipping over and smashing into pieces, the potential for mayhem is sanitised to an unrealistic degree in recent titles.

This is not to say that these things are wrong or that they must change, but an attempt to explain the distance between the fans and the sport. The majority of F1’s millions of fans have likely never had an opportunity to watch a race at a circuit, let alone stand at the top of Raidillon, scene of Saturday’s crash, where the cars pop into view at shocking speed and disappear almost before you’ve had time to turn your head.

Constant improvements in safety standards mean major crashes happen relatively infrequently. This is a good thing. But it also means fans become less familiar with the potential consequences, and explains why the outcome of Saturday’s crash came as a shock to many and affected us so deeply.

“We were fortunate enough for many years to not have these kinds of accidents and maybe forgotten about how dangerous the sport is,” said Wolff on Sunday. “And I think this is what Lewis wanted to express.

“I can totally relate to it. If you drive towards Eau Rouge [at] 260, 270 kilometres [per hour], which looks like a 90-degree corner, and you take it flat, it’s beyond understanding that these guys do what they do. And it can end fatally.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    39 comments on “Why the latest motorsport fatality is so hard to comprehend”

    1. Luckily these accidents are becoming rarer, but it doesn’t make it any less sickening when they happen. As a racing fan, you hear these names on a daily basis, follow their careers and feel as though they are almost “friends”. It’s hard to stomach when they’re fighting for their lives and even worse when you hear the worst news.

      It’s difficult to know what the right reaction to it is; as many people I was with on Saturday reacted with shock when they heard that the Formula 1 race would go ahead as planned. I asked them when it would be appropriate to race again. Next weekend? Next month? Next season? Ever?

      It’s a tricky topic, but important to remember that every driver signs up for the risk when they strap themselves in. Everyone thinks they’re immortal. People die skiing, swimming or driving road cars, but you wouldn’t think twice about doing it. You just never think it will be you; especially in this day and age in motor racing when everything is so much safer.

      Every driver is a huge loss, but with each comes new lessons and they are never forgotten by the fans.

    2. Why is it hard to comprehend? Its not.

      But it is being exploited by the press for every last click.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        3rd September 2019, 14:38

        Raidillon needs a larger, deeper escape area.

        1. It needs an escape area that drivers are penalised for racing on…..just look at the speed Hubert was travelling at whilst off the track. Give drivers tarmac and they will race on it……..unlike gravel.

          1. @machinesteve
            Hubert probably lost a fair amount of braking and steering after he lost his front wing when he clipped Boschung. It looks like he understeered off the track – I have serious doubts that he was intending to race on the run-off.

            1. @machinesteve @hiperr Alesi lost control first going up the hill (you can see that on the footage of the drivers coming up from Eau Rouge towards the Raidillon) and that resulted in chaos with drivers trying to evade him.

              It was definitely not a case to try and “race” on the run-off.

            2. I didn’t say he was racing in this terrible instance, I just pointed out the speed he was travelling at. I am absolutely no expert, all I have is the experience of watching since the 1970s. But in my uninformed view, had there been gravel he would have braked hard to avoid it, and had it been 1980s style gravel his car would have been massively slowed by it. Gravel will ruin people’s races but it undoubtably saved lives in an era when cars were nowhere near as safe as they are now. The theory about tarmac was that it would enable retardation by braking, but I don’t think it is now doing that.

            3. @mattds
              Yep – I don’t think that there was any intent by anybody to try and maintain or gain positions – they were all reacting instinctively to try and avoid contact by the look of it. From what I could see, Alesi lost his wing somewhere going into Raidillon, Boschung braked and went right as he saw Alesi, Hubert tried to avoid Boschung by going to his right but clipped Boschung’s right rear tyre with his front wing (because Boschung had also gone right) and therefore probably lost downforce (so steering and braking) and understeered into the tyre barrier, and Correa tried to brake as soon as he saw Hubert, though he may have already hit some debris before this, as you can see smoke coming from his car when he comes into frame in the video I’ve seen.

            4. @machinesteve I think some kind of gravel would be a welcome return in a number of places, but on the outside of radillon it may have unintended consequences. if you look at the villeneuve and zonta crashes in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRH75RyTgKk) the gravel appears to send them into the air slightly and they just skip across it, losing very little speed before hitting the barrier. with a tarmac run off, if you get sideways, you will lose more speed and there is also a lower chance of flipping the car.

              i’m all for gravel traps as a deterrent to running off the track, but they are not necessarily safer in terms of halting a car that has already lost it. if the gravel was on the outside of corners, up to the apex (and then tarmac afterwards), there would far less benefit to going off the road. another thing to bear in mind is that this is Eau Rouge – it’s been a legendarily, infamously fast and dangerous corner for decades and there is no way of making it totally safe.

            5. @machinesteve thing is you really don’t want to “brake hard” on the Raidillon. Brake hard there and you’ll have a mega crash. And if everyone behind brakes as well, multi mega crash.

              He probably did lift though, which is (without hindsight) the safest thing you could really do. Car will remain stable and neutral and you keep full control.

              Of course in hindsight it didn’t pan out and maybe if stomping hard on the brakes and heavily crashing himself and possibly all the others there wouldn’t have been a casualty.

      2. Unfortunately and shamelessly, yes.

        1. @frood19 Yes you are absolutely right, its a really difficult problem.

    3. FIA carry out Accident Panels of any serious accident at events they sanction. They even exercise that right on ANS sanctioned events (Billy Monger).
      They have only published ONE (summary) report 6 weeks after Jules Bianchi accident. They have never published any follow up on actions taken over Recommendations. These included Risk Assessment of sequential events affecting drivers in sequential events.
      The Panel Members were learned technical experts, but I’m not sure they had an expert in “Quantitative Risk Assessment”.
      The FIA Safety family has grown organically and mainly uses empirical methods.
      Intrinsically Hazardous Industries have for decades developed quantitative and predictive methods in analysing the ways accidents could happen and the consequences all the way upto complete installation failures. Most countries require such information to be developed about an activity by law in a Safety Report containing a full risk assessment. They often also require a description of the safety management system with identifies all hazards, assesses them, and what appropriate control measures are in place.
      Safety Management is a discipline of statistics, engineering, etc. Its continuously developed as a profession for over 5 decades. There are even recognised Management Standards eg ISO 9000/14000 series.
      FIA know this having awarded Environmental ISO to Formula E – Its usually an independent Certification!!

      There are no signs from the way FIA “manage” safety that they have looked outside at other very dangerous industries/activities to learn how to manage safety, only to empirical borrow engineering and testing.
      It really is about time they looked to learn, as Aviation, Oil & Gas, Chemicals, etc have done for themselves, and by law.

      1. Insightful, thank you.

    4. Ever since I was little I’ve always been irked by incompetent people in positions of power or influence. IMO, there are few better examples of this than the moron calling the shots for the world F1 feed. I’ve been “whining” about it in comment sections of various F1 blogs for years now and if anything, the problem seems to be getting worse.

      That camera angle that Perez and Grosjean shared is so unbelievably awesome that when I saw it during the race I just kept rewinding it and watching it over and over. It looked like the cars were being shot out of a friggin’ cannon! But how many times did the CLOWN calling the shots show it? Once. And he cut away from it way too soon.

      Fire this dude already, and more importantly, replace him with someone who is truly dedicated to constantly showing the fans and the rest of the world the mind-boggling corner speed of these awesome race cars. For fans who don’t FF through boring races like I do, a truly competent director would make them much easier to endure.

      The key: Ultra low, fixed or panned camera shots that, ideally, show all the cars in quick succession either coming towards the camera or even better, moving away from the camera – i.e. “shot out of a cannon” effect – especially entering or coming off of corners. It’s not rocket science, except – obviously – for the inept dingbat in charge of presenting this potentially great sport to the world wide television audience.

      SO infuriating.

      1. The excuse is that fom is trying to show the sponsors but the reality is that even 10 years ago fom did a much better job producing f1. Sponsors were visible cars were in-shot and the corner was in-shot everything looked spectacular, now they rather introduce quick shots combined with us tv show wobble and cut the car and the corner out of the shot.

        1. yes, the tv coverage has gone steadily downhill. i thought i was in the minority but it seems not. thankfully. though i wish that we weren’t. the shots are too close, in bizarre angles, the sound is fake. i don’t even recognize some of the tracks & i’ve been watching since ’77. all they care about are more & more graphics that don’t make sense & just clutter the screen. plus, the resolution which i’m sure is some kind of super k terabyte technology upgrade yet looks like cheap soap-opera video from the 1980’s. i do hear that the stock price hit a yearly high today. wall street likes death, it would seem.

    5. I hope that anyone that has ever boo’d any driver at any even now feels ashamed of themselves and realise the risk that these people are taking for our entertainment,

      1. they are taking risk to fulfill their own personal goals and glory. not to entertain us. we, as spectators, merely consume the process from our living rooms.

    6. I’ll admit that when I heard that a driver had been killed in an F2 race my first reaction was ‘How?’ – especially with the Halo now in place it was getting hard to imagine how a driver could be hurt at all. Like many onlookers who rarely see races in person maybe I was a little complacent about the forces involved, though even in this case, and most recent fatalities in top level racing there is a huge element of bad luck involved for things to end the way they did.

      Perhaps the lesson involved is that ‘safety’ is such a very fluid concept and there’s more to it that just doing crash tests. Watch the old F1 races from 25 years ago and it looks comically dangerous with all the drivers heads and necks so exposed, but notice too that few of them are weaving and violently blocking the way they do today. Same with IndyCar- the cars were much less safe but superspeedway races used to get so strung out with all the different cars and engines that big pileups hardly happened, now they are all in spec cars and so desperate to pass each that what happened at Pocono with Sato et al seemed almost inevitable. After this F2 crash I’m worried most for other places where a car can come back off the barriers into the path of other cars that – thanks to the tarmac runoffs – are unsighted but travelling very fast.

    7. I’m not sure that this “latest motorsport fatality is so hard to comprehend… Particularly as it happened not in the top flight of Formula 1, nor even in the still more perilous world of IndyCar’s superspeedways, but a junior championship for those aspiring to reach the sport’s pinnacle.”

      Drivers in the top categories such as F1, Indycar and NASCAR are obviously more skilled than drivers in lower tiers so, all other things being equal, IMO, it seems logical that we would see more fatalities in the lower categories. That said, I have no idea whether the statistics actually bare that out.

      One of the skills that most top drivers excel at is avoiding other people’s wrecks. Prime Kevin Harvick was the master at it. Is there any doubt that Hubert is still alive today if he didn’t get T-boned by Correa? If he had that accident in F1 there’s a much better chance that all the other drivers would have avoided hitting him.

      Anyways, RIP Anthoine and many condolences to his friends, family and fans.

      1. Drivers in the top categories such as F1, Indycar and NASCAR are obviously more skilled than drivers in lower tiers so, all other things being equal, IMO, it seems logical that we would see more fatalities in the lower categories.

        But other things are not equal. Acceleration, top speed, cornering speed, downforce levels, G forces, are all way lower in feeder series.

        Also I don’t particularly agree F1 drivers would have had more chance at avoiding his wrecked car. The Eau Rouge/Raidillon/T4 combination comprises huge elevation changes. You really can’t fully appreciate how steep it is until you’ve stood in person at Eau Rouge and look upwards. Going above, cornering is pretty much blind and once you get there at that kind of speeds your path is very much set. Correa didn’t have a chance to avoid that.

        That being said – this is not hard to comprehend. But just because of the simple fact racing is dangerous, at any level of the sport. Always has been and it will be for a very long time to come.

    8. Why is it hard to comprehend? because it is a meaningless death. 50cm away and the car with Correa would not have collided with the pink car and there would not have been anything dramatic.

      Or if the pink car would have slid so much after going in the tires, there would not be anything dramatic.

      Or if there was no suspension in QP, HUB would have done his flying lap and not start at the back of the grid, here would not be anything dramatic.

      Or if there was not a delay by red flags in F1, perhaps there would not be anything dramatic.

      1. Um. Meaningless is definitely the wrong word there. It was not meaningless. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t intend for that to sound the way it sounded.

        1. well if you wanna go into this, it barely gets any more meaningless than dying in a car race. and i say this a pasdionate follower of the sport.

    9. There used to be the notion of the track ending at the track limit. cars used to be unable to go flat out off track.
      not pointing any fingers to correa, he did what everyone does now. still, graveltraps or similiar might have softened up the Situation quite considerably.

      1. Correa had a puncture from Alesi’s debris which pushed him off to the right. Hubert had front wing damage (and may have had his wing under his nose) when he crashed, as he clipped the car in front avoiding Alesi. Alesi had a puncture himself which is why he went off at Eau Rouge.

    10. I don’t see why it’s hard to comprehend. Motorsports is inherently dangerous and while steps can be taken to mitigate the risks, the risks remain.

      1. Indeed, Motorsport will never be safe and accidents will happen.
        The fact its is some years ago something like this happened and a lot of large shunts recent, all had a happy ending and it seems to put people on the wrong foot.

    11. Still can’t get over it. Honestly, I wished I had never seen the crash either. The last 2 days, riding my bike to work I’ve been extremely conscious of keeping a lot of space to the next vehicle and fearing worst case scenarios.

    12. After watching this a few times, it seems like F1 would could use spotters at some tracks, to warn drivers of a spin that they cantsee.It was a few seconds after Alesi had spun at Eau Rouge that Correa came at full speed and collided with Hubert. A spotter could have possibly alerted him of the danger. Wether he would have lifted is another matter. Yes, its easy at NASCAR and INDY races, because they are on ovals most of the time, but I think it should be looked into. This tragedy was just that, a tragedy where a series of rapidly occurring events led to a drivers death. It sucks. RIP Anthoine.

      1. Spotters are called Flaggers.
        Unfortunately, with higher speeds, wider track and off-track areas, the flaggers are further away from the track and the sight line of the drivers.
        Always going to be a challenge managing on-coming traffic and incidents.

    13. I hope this opens up the discussion to remove tarmac runoffs in the majority of corners. Since they offer no deterrent for running wide, they invite drivers to keep it floored going through them. Sad to see that this time it resulted in a fatality.

    14. It really is hard to comprehend, because it was an accident that wasn’t meant to happen.
      Every time it plays back in your head you keep hoping his car would continue moving forward or spinning away from the oncoming car.
      Its not enough to say motor racing is dangerous, or the cars are unsafe, because in all honesty, the cars have become very safe.
      One can’t blame the barrier too much because it really did its job well. I initially thought it has spat him back unto the race track but, it didn’t.
      I don’t think he even saw it coming. He probably didn’t even have the opportunity to brace for any impact.
      We can only describe it as a cruel twist of fate, that different insignificant incidences conspired to end his young life.

    15. Saw a video years ago of Sam Posey rhyming off the list of drivers he had known and competed with who were no longer with us. Especially significant to me as I grew up reading about all of them.
      The list was incredibly long.
      Most fans today have no idea of the carnage that was considered “part of the landscape” for both cars and bikes in the past. We are so fortunate that the culture has changed and incidents like these are rare. Not rare enough, but getting better.

      1. When Martin Brundle talked to Jackie Stewart on the grid before the race, Brundle mentioned the figure of 57 deaths (presumably at race meetings where Stewart was racing) during his career. There were 11 Formula 1 drivers who died during his time in F1 (between 1966 and 1973) alone.

    16. Going full circle to the start, some times the best comment is “no comment”.

    17. After full analysis. the runoff at raidillion is inadequate. The new monocoque for f2 isn’t strong enough for the speed of current cars. Finally that corner is dangerous. Not hard to understand, this was 20 years in the making, taking the gravel of that corner has had many consequences to the safety that corner though above all else the run off is too short and the barriers aren’t the latest tech.

      1. I honestly don’t know what you could do to stop a side impact at 200+ km/h from killing the driver that is struck, short of having crash structures the same thickness as the front and rear crash structures. Even if the monocoque had not failed, the acceleration experienced by Hubert may have been fatal. Assume an optimal crash structure (minimal theoretical acceleration) approximately 1 m in thickness (the summation of the frontal crash structure of Correa’s car and the side impact structure of Hubert’s car). In order to absorb the impact that results when there is a closing speed of 250 km/h (~70 m/s) and a final shared speed of 125 km/h (the ideal case to minimise acceleration), the monocoque would undergo over 120 g of acceleration for about 30 ms. This is well into the range of severe injury even with optimal body support, as indicated in Eiband’s curves of human acceleration tolerance – for an acceleration of 30 ms duration, anything over about 65 g of forward deceleration (i.e. a frontal collision) is considered to cause severe injury, and lateral acceleration is less tolerable than this.

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