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Cotton Wool Redux


Gentle reader! Please take a healthy beverage in hand, take repose on a favoured soft furnishing, kindly ensure that there are no sharp edges near your delicate skin, then, with cotton wool suitably applied to elbows and knees, let us commence this latest exploration.

Back, nearer the start of the century in email conversation with the most esteemed, and dearly lamented Mike Lawrence, we discussed what Mike termed "the cotton wool effect". This caused me in time to write a Pitpass article entitled "A Brief History of Cotton Wool". Both my, and Mike's, views being that over time the things that generally worry or ever scare a population become increasingly trivial.

So it is that as we loosen school ties before stuffing them into sticky blazer pockets for the summer recess, that we have George Russell leading pleas for safer racing.

Now I, like esteemed editor Balfe, hope for no more on-track deaths, ever. Yet such is the human condition that at some point an appalling set of circumstances shall conspire to deliver just that. The FIA, organisers, teams, drivers, track owners and maintainers, each has a duty to deliver the safest possible environment within which to race and spectate. Yet that does not mean all risk can forever be eliminated.

Thus was the enjoyable ebb and flow of the conversation between Mike and myself. An element of danger is required to give the racing spice, but not so much that death is visited upon the field each and every race weekend. Conversely anyone wishing for " more on track deaths ever", has not been observing how life on earth unfolds. Drivers require a mature view of just what risks they take, and just how it might all end, should many dark possibilities gather like Macbeth's witches around a sinister cauldron one weekend, delivering a deadly disadvantage.

Do I fly? Yes. Do I fly in piston engine helicopters? No. Single engine light aircraft? No. Wide-body commercial aircraft maintained and operated by the world's top ten airlines for safety? Yes. And these alone.

Do I drive on public roads? Yes, stone-cold sober in quality modern cars.

Do I rush off to darkest mystic Asia and obtain traditional tattoos with old bamboo needles? Lord, no! That one just made the Southern Pitpass cats faint!

Yet thousands of people fly light aircraft, ride motorbikes on public roads and get tattoos inscribed by folk who make Count Dracula look like a fair and reasonable first responder. And these folk live and walk among us!

Choice my gentle reader. Choice.

George and all his fellow pilots elect of their own free will to strap into their flying machines and have a jolly wheeze. As Sir Jackie Stewart will tell you, he knows too many dead people. Yet that misses a nuance. The blessing and damning of growing old is two-fold. In the first instance to still be here, and in the second to know an increasing number of dead people.

Regular readers will know I recently buried my dear mother. Indeed my thanks again to all who left such considerate messages in the comments. They were a source of strength and comfort, and I've re-read them all many times. The kind, genuine consideration shown was literally heart-warming.

So George. We all die. Not for any one of us is the question "If?". No. It is only a matter of "When? How?"

Madame Guillotine tomorrow morning at dawn is not too comforting an answer to that pair of questions. "Sometime in the next sixty years, natural causes". Is not so alarming. "Possibly in the near future by an act of your own hand". Well, choices dear reader. Choices.

I don't smoke, I try to eat well, but I'd do laps of Silverstone for free in George's car. I'd race George's car also for free, with no intention of winning, simply finishing the race without hitting anything.

Lance Stroll still gets grief over being 'Daddy's Driver' Yet when it rains he has given some of his best performances. Your humble scribe has been deeply impressed by a number of Lance's fine wet weather drives. For a Daddy's boy he does seem rather committed, passionate and capable. No moaning along the lines of "But Daddy, it's wet, can Alonso drive both cars today?"

Lance has made his choice. He is at peace with it.

George is realising, possibly for the first time, that he is mortal. He now knows capable drivers that are stone dead... because of the choices they made.

Barring major mechanical failure or being speared off the track by an errant competitor, crashing in the wet is your own choice. As, indeed, is crashing on your own in the dry. But today's drivers are so capable, the cars so reliable, and the track design, for the most part, so good, that a death in the dry these days would appear highly unlikely. Admittedly, non-zero, but a very small number.

The appalling crash suffered by Romain Grosjean in 2020 shows just how much vehicle and safety barrier design has improved over the last thirty years. Any time up to around 2005 that crash would probably have been fatal. He walked away. He races on. That's a choice.

Niki Lauda eased from the cockpit at Suzuka all those years ago, and a blistered, fire-wracked body pushed past limits we can only imagine said, "no more". That was a remarkably brave and honest choice.

James Hunt won, continued on, breeding budgies, built an improbable friendship with Murray Walker, drank, and smoked more than is wise, and had the sex life of ten Titans. Only to die in June 1993 of a heart attack in his sleep, aged 45.

Fernando Alonso turned 42 over the Spa race weekend, and is still racing. Choices. Sliding doors. Moments of eternity for us all, that beckon once, and when we are claimed we are never again released. Was it better to go fighting, rather than quiet to that long goodnight?

Senna swaps teams. Clark does an F2 race for fun. Michael goes skiing with his family. Chuck Yeager flew planes closer by DNA to missiles than a 737. Choices.

Ascari borrows a helmet and goes for a few swift shake-down laps in a test.

Nuvolari drives like an angel, and smokes like a devil.

Mike Hawthorn in a heavily modified 1958 3.4L Jaguar. Wet night, difficult, but known, road... Much later it was confirmed that he was effectively racing his friend Rob Walker in a Mercedes Benz 300SL Gull-wing.

It was the evening of 22nd January 1959, a mere three months since Mike's retirement from F1 racing. He chooses to overtake Rob, dives into a damp right hander, clips a "Keep Left" bollard and flies off the road backwards to strike a tree. Dead instantly.

All choices. He chose to start racing in lower classes of cars in 1950. Winning many races in various classes. He first took to the F1 grid at the 1952 Belgian Grand Prix. He qualified 6th and finished 4th, while Ascari did the triple, pole, fastest lap and win.

He would go on to win the 1958 World Driver's Championship, with his last race being the 1958 Moroccan GP. While he would claim pole, it was Sir Stirling Moss who would claim fastest lap and victory for Vanwall, while Mike claimed second in his Ferrari, with his team mate Phil Hill third in the sister Ferrari. Mike also claimed a Le Mans win during this period.

Yet, having claimed the championship Mike chose to retire from professional racing, in large part due to the death that season of his dear friend and teammate, Peter Collins at the German GP.

Some great choices, some poor choices. Choosing to go slower that night in his Jaguar might well have seen him live that bit longer. Yet, he had already lost a kidney to disease, and doctors felt he would be dead within a couple of years due to on-going complications... so maybe Mike had in fact chosen to go out in a blaze of glory behind the wheel anyway. We shall never know.

Ascari had already passed by 1958, having died behind the wheel of a Ferrari he was not supposed to be testing in May 1955, at Monza.

Incidentally, back at Maranello, on hearing the news of the two-time world champion's death, Enzo Ferrari's first reaction was to ask: "And the car?"

After seven years in F1, including three wins, Phil Hill would retire and live a long and full 'retirement' until his death in 2008 from complications from Parkinson's Disease at the age of 81.



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1. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 09/08/2023 14:03

"When racing karts (Buckmore's arrive & drive series, but still quite fast), driver briefings usually went something like:

"If it's dry, slicks. If it's damp, slicks. If it's wet, slicks. If it snows, slicks" - and we raced in all four conditions, mostly wet. Sideways, on full lock going into turn 1 was "interesting"......."

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 09/08/2023 13:05

"@Superbird70 - That’s the first time anyone has said that…! Gave me a smile! I’ll look to get up-graded to a Great White…!! :-)"

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3. Posted by Superbird70, 09/08/2023 12:24

"@Editor- Thank you. I am but the Remora to @Max Noble's Mako Shark"

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 09/08/2023 10:46

"@Kenji - calm yourself! Far too much excitement in a single post! The FIA will outlaw that if they get wind :-)

@Esteemed Editor (and therefore Superbird70) - yup! It’s so crazy I can see Liberty Media drawing up the details of the contract right now! I look forward to the retrospective law suit in which they sue Bernie for suggesting they place remote controlled sprinklers around the track, as this might now be considered as leading to such evils as drivers breaking finger nails, and getting split ends…


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5. Posted by Editor, 08/08/2023 17:43

"@ Superbird70

Post of the Month"

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6. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 08/08/2023 17:22

"Choices indeed as long as we do not go down the route of a chicane at Eau Rouge again!"

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7. Posted by Superbird70, 08/08/2023 16:43

"Maybe the solution is not to provide any wet weather tires (tyres) at all? Too wet to race with slicks, race called, and points awarded based on odds to win set by Vegas book-makers.

No anxiety, no special spray guards, no special wet weather set-ups, more sustainable because of fewer tires. Lower insurance rates for the drivers. Is there a downside to not racing in the wet?

Let the fans in the stands take their chances on a wet race, not the drivers."

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8. Posted by kenji, 08/08/2023 11:35

"@ Max Noble. At long last I have found the middle path and it's called 'compatabilism'. It's a far more acceptable notion that embraces both philosophical viewpoints despite the fact that he guy who made 'big [ grey ] hair' fashionable and his E= one Mclaren x one more McLaren was a certified determinist as quantified by his 'God does not play dice' edict. Another three [ long ] weeks to go until the orange coloured/ flavoured festival of Maximus is held.

Seeing as excess precipitation is the basis for this thread I've come to the conclusion that 'mudguards' are not the way to go as this just directs the same water back onto the track. What we need to do is get rid of the spray itself therefore an electrically heated fine mesh mudguard should be put into place as that would allow the water droplets to be evaporated as steam which disappears almost instantly. Excess water could then pass through the mesh but at a vastly reduced level and no the substitute Grange has not yet been opened!!!"

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 08/08/2023 10:34

"@Blitsharts - Now understood. For some reason my mind went directly to photocopiers and chemical film processing. Sorry for that, as noted when @ClarkwasGod pointed it out in a few more words! Where was my mind…!!! ?? :-)

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 08/08/2023 4:28

"@Spindoctor - quite so! I’m working on an article about the spray issue…

@ClarkwasGod - Yikes, thinking I one thing typing another! Fuji indeed… I blush…

@Kenji - A question I ask myself on a regular basis! Fated, or pre-ordained. Free Will, Random Universe…? One does not “Choose” to suffer a disease, but unhealthy choices *might* impact the probability. One does not choose to break a leg… but ski, snowboard, or motorcycle and the chances do greatly increase! Or are we all nothing but the imaginings of a slumber God? …best to focus on Toto or Christian annoying us, and guessing who other than V. Max is going to win a race between now and season 2027…! :-)

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11. Posted by kenji, 08/08/2023 1:41

"@ Max Noble....You throw up some options for a tantalising debate between the 'eternal' issues of "free will' versus the 'determinists' among us. At the present moment I am torn between the two and i need much more reflection....."

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12. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 07/08/2023 19:54

"Another fine one, Max. Would only comment (other than it was Fuji) was that Hunt finished 3rd, the race being won by Mario Andretti, who thus ensured Chapman didn't have to follow up on his threat to quit F1 if Lotus didn't win that season. Clark was only at Hockenheim because Alan Mann Racing didn't follow up in writing on a verbal invitation to drive the new Ford 3L sports car at the '68 BOAC 500/6 Hour race at Brands Hatch. As you say, choices made........"

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13. Posted by Spindoctor, 07/08/2023 10:11

"Hard to fault the logic or the overriding principle behind this argument. "Choice" is certainly much more available to the likes of multimillion pound racers than us regular folks. They can quit any time & get jobs in call centres or Amazon warehouses.
I do feel that with this generation of cars, visibility in the wet has reduced & speeds are increased. Some means of reducing spray seems sensible."

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14. Posted by Superbird70, 06/08/2023 15:51

"'end of the day'

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15. Posted by Superbird70, 06/08/2023 14:54

"If this aversion to taking calculated risks takes hold F1runs the risk of becoming the most expensive sim racing league in the world.
Or our Saudi overlords will put domes over all tracks to control weather conditions.

As was said,at the end of the no one can force a driver to get into the car against his will.

Well written article. Keep them coming."

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