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What tends to be an end of the year jolly for race drivers from various disciplines of the sport – the annual Race of Champions (ROC) – needs to be spotlighted for an apparent lack of safety measures, namely the mandatory use of Hans-devices by competitors and even passengers.
Pascal Wehrlein crashed heavily during the 2017 Miami edition of the race in January, forcing him to miss the first F1 pre-season testing as well as the season opening Australian Grand Prix due to a neck injury he suffered during a spectacular crash – he was not wearing a Hans-device.
Indeed 2017 ROC winner Juan Pablo Montoya and F1 drivers Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel were also photographed not wearing the neck safety device during some of their races at Marlins Park earlier this year.
In the light of Wehrlein’s debilitating accident, the question no one is asking is:
Why did Wehrlein and other drivers not wear the Hans-device during the ROC races in Miami?
I posed the above question in an email to the press officers of the ROC, the FIA and Sauber asking for feedback – no reply has been forthcoming from anyone at time of publishing… will keep you posted if and when I get a response.
After extensive testing Formula 1 mandated HANS-devices in 2003 and the FIA has made them compulsory for all International-level events from the beginning of 2009. They are as much of a drivers’ safety armour as fire resistant shoes and gloves, balaclavas, helmets and fire-proof race suits.
Safety is the buzz word in modern motorsport, so for obvious reasons it should never be compromised even at a fun event, let alone the ROC which is a high profile and international series of races for champions of the sport, using cars that are hardly the epitome of safety…
Worse still is the fact that drivers give passenger rides to VIPs and media – as Wehrlein was doing at the time of his unfortunate incident.
A helmet and a race suit appear to be the only safety requirements to participate in the event, that the Hans-device is not a mandatory requirement at the event before anyone climbs into a car boggles the mind.
Wehrlein’s injury from the accident was to his neck, which in turn limited his off season training to the point that he entered the season unprepared physically and the rest is well documented.
Ironically it is said that the German ignored the advice of his own manager to skip the event and focus on his training.
But Wehrlein, perhaps showing the arrogance that cost him a Force India drive, did his own thing and traveled to Miami for the glamour event to ‘play’ with other motorsport champions and stars.
Consequently Wehrlein has paid a high price for his actions, but at the same time you have to question the attitude and action of the other drivers, especially chaps with the stature of Vettel, Massa and Montoya – who you would expect to set an example.
Not wearing the proper safety gear for such an event might seem trivial, until something serious happens as in this case, or worse still when there is a tragedy…
Indeed scanning images from past events, when the great Michael Schumacher was a regular ROC competitor, drivers were mostly devoid of neck protection devices of any kind.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Wehrlein saga, expect teams to add a clause to their driver contracts insisting that they do not enter in any form of competitive racing event – other than the F1 races they are contracted to do.
The whole Wehrlein incident may well be the end of F1 drivers participating in future ROC events, and hopefully in future anyone that climbs into a car at a ROC event will wear a HANS-device.
Inside Line Opinion by Paul Velasco