I will preface this post with the clearly-stated conclusion that I do not know the answer to the conundrum of F1 safety.
Is it better to have dangerous and entertaining action for people who want to take and watch crazy risks, or should we save their lives and not ever have to look death in the face? If people want to jump off mountains dressed as Superman, trying to fly, should a man with a clipboard be allowed to step forward and say: “Sub-section 34F of the…” and stop us all having fun?
What is liberty? If you suggest it is insane for everyone to own guns, and say there is clear evidence every day that this ruins thousands of lives, you are attacked, left, right and centre because of this thing called “liberty”, which is deemed by some to be more important… and yet at the same time they cry: “motor racing racing must be safe”.
When I was studying, the writings of Dutch historian Johan Huizinga had a huge effect on the way I viewed human history: “When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now,” he wrote. “The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness which joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child.”
Huizinga was writing in the 1920s, but his words ring true more than ever nearly a century later. We are cocooned more and more from the harshness of life. Medical science and virtual realities have softened the human mind and we live in a world in which the petty have found power and have created nanny governments with so many rules that you can now read step ladders and microwave ovens; where you cannot do anything or say anything without someone tut-tutting and saying that Eskimos are Inuits or that Ayers Rock must be known as Uluru. One cannot play Cowboys and Indians without upsetting financiers and indigenous folk the world over. You have to use words that committees think are right, not what real people do and say. Society dictates what is acceptable or not and all too often there is no rhyme nor reason to it. Am I a savage if I think open cockpit racing should feature open cockpits? Does it really make a difference if a single seater racing car has an open cockpit or a halo fitted to protect the driver from the roving finger of fate?
Justin Wilson’s death was a clear example of the random nature of fate and it was cruel. But this is “the cruel sport” and there was a time when those who did it, accepted the risks. They were heroes because they wanted to be heroes. They wanted to be the fast boys and if they died doing it, that was that. They accepted it. They were candles blown out too early, yet somehow inspiring for the generations to come.
In many ways, I think this is how it should be. Sport is a lot to do with inspiration, as well as entertainment. People love to compete, or they love to support. It makes them feel a part of something, the member of a tribe. But, at the same time, I believe that life is precious and should not be wasted. Above all, perhaps, I think that life should not be wasted needlessly. Fate is fate and some, like poor Jules Bianchi, are just unlucky. He fell victim to a system that was designed to protect him and deemed to be the best way of doing things. One can find fault in all things after the event.
So should there be halos? It would have probably made no difference in the case of Bianchi but it might have saved Justin, but who knows? How long will it be before we find ourselves mourning someone because fate decrees that a wheel bounces off a halo and goes over a fence?
Or should we just let racers be racers and accept what it says on the tickets: motor racing is dangerous. We must protect those who come to watch. It would be foolish not to do so in the world of the clipboard man, but otherwise should we just let the boys (and hopefully one day girls) get on with it?