Mosley pays tribute to the legacy of Senna

28/04/2014
NEWS STORY

Ahead of the twentieth anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna, Max Mosley claims the horror of Imola resulted in a legacy which has benefited us all.

While some felt the sport over-reacted following the Imola weekend which saw the deaths of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, not to mention serious incidents involving Rubens Barrichello and Michele Alboreto, even claiming that some of the responses were "knee jerk", there is no doubting that a number of F1 drivers have good reason to be thankful, having walked away from accidents over the last twenty years following crashes which previously would have ended their careers or worse.

The man responsible for spearheading many of the initiatives is Max Mosley, the FIA president at the time, who was charged with holding the sport together at a time when it was under intense speculation.

Whilst fans of a certain age had grown used to seeing their heroes badly injured or killed, the Imola weekend of 1994 came twelve years after the last fatality during a Grand Prix, when Riccardo Paletti perished in a horrific start-line accident at Montreal, ironically the circuit which was to be re-named in honour of Gilles Villeneuve who was killed during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix just a few weeks earlier.

Talking to Reuters Alan Baldwin, Mosley, who competed in the same F2 race at Hockenheim in which Jim Clark perished, recalls the bad old days of the sport whilst highlighting the positives that followed that awful weekend in 1994.

"That was the catalyst for change on the roads that has literally, without question, saved tens of thousands of lives," he said. "It is the truth. Without that catalyst, we would never have gone to Brussels. We would never have the Euro NCAP, the crash testing, we wouldn't have got the legislation through the European Commission that has upped the standards of safety.

"Thousands of people walking around, happy, alive, uninjured would be dead if it weren't for what was done. And all of that started with Ayrton's accident. That to me, when I sit down in my rocking chair in another few years, is the thing that really matters."

Recalling the dark days of the 60s and 70s, a time when drivers were in action almost every weekend, be it F1, F2 or Sports Cars, resulting in a roll call of lost heroes that is truly sickening to ponder, Mosley continued.

"You used to go to the people running the sport in those days and say 'It's unnecessarily dangerous' and they'd say 'well, you don't have to do it if you don't want to. It's entirely voluntary'. I remember thinking at the time you ought to be able to do a sport without getting killed. You can accept a risk, but not a massive risk. It was like being in a front line platoon in Vietnam or something."

By 1994, attitudes had changed and safety had improved, F1 drivers contracts ruled out participation in other series, there had been no serious incidents and consequently there was complacency.

"I think people were beginning to think that no-one gets killed," says Mosley. "And yet it was quite obvious that it was still far more dangerous than it needed to be. And of course these things are statistics. It's never safe. It's like aviation. What you have to do is everything you can to reduce the probability but you can't make it safe."

Following Imola there were few aspects of the sport that weren't affected. Long overdue changes were made that might have been ignored for even longer but for circumstances that dreadful weekend.

"I think the reason it had such an impact was he was recognised by everybody, including the other drivers, as number one," says Mosley. "And then his personality was such that people found him a very attractive individual. Everybody liked him.

"The really serious scientific work done by Sid could never have happened because we would never have put that committee together without the impetus of the accident and then of course even if we had put a committee together nobody would have taken any notice," he continues, referring to the man that helped him re-shape the sport, the late Professor Sid Watkins.

"What would have happened if it hadn't been for Ayrton, there would have been at some point in the next four or five years another fatality. I can think of two or three accidents that would have ended badly had it not been for work done post-Senna. And then there would have been a slow movement.

"It was very clear after 1994 that society had changed," he continues. "In the '50s and '60s, war was a fresh memory and people were quite used to somebody getting killed. By the '90s that was no longer the case. So yes it had changed. When we had the Senna accident we even had politicians saying Formula One should be banned. The whole of Formula One was in turmoil. But we had no idea how big it was going to become eventually. Something had to be done and it went far beyond the confines of Formula One.

"If you say 'What has Formula One given society?' then Formula One, and unfortunately Ayrton and Ratzenberger as well, have given a step change in road safety which has affected the lives of thousands. That's not maybe, it's sure.

"The road safety would have happened," he admits, "but it probably would have taken another 15 or 20 years. Meanwhile all those thousands of people would have been killed and they are alive. And that really matters."

Chris Balfe

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Published: 28/04/2014
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