There was a brilliant documentary on last night about the Grand Prix years between the late 50’s and early 70’s; they called it the ‘Killer Years’. Drivers like Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jackie Ickx, many other famous drivers of the time discussed how dangerous their sport was back then. Jackie said you had a one in three chance of surviving the season, which is not very good odds, especially for a sport. The desire to be the best and to win at all costs caused many of the greatest drivers to risk their lives and some to die agonising deaths most often by fire. Yet nobody was willing to change it; it wasn’t until the mid 70’s that things started to improve and if you think about it. It wasn’t really until after Senna died that things became as safe as a sport like that can be.
In a way, you can take what happened in Formula One back then, and transpose it onto today’s society, and the world works today. They wanted to see the exciting fast cars go around the track; they wanted to see close races and drivers giving their all. But they also liked the crashes when they happened, they liked the thrill and the danger involved, they wanted to be entertained. The thing is when do you draw the line, and say too many people are dying horrifically; too many people are getting injured unnecessarily. Of course back then when drivers said this, the track owners, did not want to change, they wanted it kept as it was, because it was going to cost them a fortune to add all the safety features the drivers wanted. The race car owners they just wanted fast cars, and to them initially the drivers were kind of expendable, they could always get another replacement. And even the drivers were ambivalent to begin with, they did not want to jeopardise their careers, by speaking out about the lack of safety.
It took many deaths, and horrible injuries before it changed. Terrible isn’t it. No different to society today, we never change until the death count reaches a critical level. In 1959 in one race 15 people died, not just drivers but some spectators as well. That didn’t cause a change, when Jim Clark one of the greatest drivers ever died that did not change anything. Eventually when one poor driver Roger Williamson, in his second race, crashed and was burning to death live on camera; with another driver David Purley, frantically trying in vain to save his fellow drivers life, did things eventually start to change. It was terrible to watch that in a documentary, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to witness it live. Yet all the drivers continued to race apart from Purley, who received the George Medal for his bravery and valour.
Unfortunately that is the world we live in today, life is meaningless to some and because of this lack of meaning, and they put many others into harm’s way. They may want to change, but the system does not allow change, until finally something incredibly awful and drastic or even catastrophic happens, and then they are forced into changing.
When are we going to learn, maybe we never will and one day the greatest of all catastrophes will destroy us and we won’t be around anymore to repair the damage caused.