The Welsh Grand Prix Blog

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A tragic accident

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The first season of, and maybe the relaunched Formula Two Championship in general, will forever be tarnished by the events at Brands Hatch today. I don’t feel the need to explain what happened, as you can find out by going to a news site and reading about it or going to YouTube to watch the footage of the accident, and I really don’t feel like describing it either. Now is not the time.

The death of Henry Surtees, at 18 years old and just 5 days younger than myself, is a tragic reminder that motorsport is still dangerous, and fatal accidents like this are sometimes unpreventable despite all the modern safety precautions. It is a freak accident in every sense of the word, a once-every-few-years occurance but there’s always a chance of something like this happening with single-seater racing. Mike Spence was killed at Indianapolis in 1968 and, ironically in the original F2 championship, Austrian F1 prospect Markus Hottinger suffered the same fate at Hockenheim in 1980 – both from being struck in a similar fashion. I’m sure there are many more similar incidents but again, now’s not the time to go into them.

It just seems…stupid. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. Brands Hatch is a “safe” circuit. The brand new Williams F2 cars will comply to all the necessary safety requirements of today. And yet still, in the year 2009, a young man can still die at the wheel of a racing car through a freak of circumstance like this. I’ve always followed racing in an era where drivers can walk away from the biggest crashes – look at some of the recent sportscar accidents with prototypes flying through the air and disintigrating into a million pieces, or the enormous impact suffered by Kubica in Montreal 2 years ago. You grow to subconsciously forget the dangers – you may consciously acknowledge the phrase “motorsport is dangerous”, but it’s not until something tragic like this happens that you genuinely realise it is true. But what you can be sure is that there will be a full investigation into today’s accident and there will be steps taking to prevent such an event occuring again if at all possible.

I watched Henry race last year at Thruxton in Formula Renault. Not just a name, a son of his famous father, he had some credible results to his name, including his first F2 podium in race 1 yesterday. Clearly he had something, otherwise he would never have advanced as far as he did. It may go on to be reported in the press as “John Surtees’ son dies in accident”, but I’m sure he had a promising career ahead of him. That he was virtually the same age as me, younger than me even, brings it home even more. But he died doing what he loved. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time, as well as the marshals who had to deal with the accident and did so in exemplary fashion.

It is also worth remembering that 18 years ago this weekend at Oulton Park, we lost the highly rated young prospect Paul Warwick in a savage accident in a British F3000 race. Almost 2 decades later, we have experienced another tragic loss that will no doubt shake the British motor racing fraternity.

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Written by James Bennett

July 19, 2009 at 22:24

Posted in Junior series

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