F1 shows way in safety measures

At the back of every accreditation card at every motor sport event, there is the one thing that is a constant: motor sport is dangerous.

That goes without saying, but all the glitz and glamour revolving motor sport blinds spectators from the dangers involved in the high-octane sport. For a driver, however, danger is at every twist and turn and it is always at the back of his mind.

Exactly one year ago, at 2.30 pm on October 23, up-and-coming Moto GP rider and 2008 250cc world champion Marco Simoncelli succumbed to a ghastly crash on Turn 11 at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.

A day before Simoncelli’s incident, American Dan Wheldon was buried after he crashed and breathed his last at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway the previous weekend (October 16) in the IZOD IndyCar World Championship.

At the inaugural edition of the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit, that was held from October 28-30 last year, drivers, teams and everyone with the fraternity paid their respects to the rider and the driver, observing a minute’s silence.

Every driver knows of the risk involved in driving at break-neck speeds, but in Formula One -- more than any other racing format -- he can afford to relax a little and push his car to the limit as the FIA has spent a lot of time and effort in making the sport as safe as they possibly could.

The death of Simoncelli and Wheldon has ensured stricter and more scientific safety measures are employed but the one person every driver would thank for this shift towards safety-first policy is the late Eric Sid Watkins, aka Prof.

The neurosurgeon from Liverpool worked for 26 years as the FIA Safety and Medical Delegate, Head of F1 on-track Medical Team and the First Respond in Case of Crash team.

Even though there were a few lives he could do little to save -- most prominantly his friend and former world champion Ayrton Senna -- Watkins was the most important man at every venue as he made safety a pre-requisite at a time when it was being taken for granted.

Drivers pushed harder and in turn made it all the more fun for spectators, and all that was because there was Watkins.

Watkins, who was replaced as the Head of Safety by Gary Hartstein in 2005, passed away on September 12 in London, but his legacy, much like the that of Simoncelli and Wheldon, will live on forever.

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