Formula One is one of the most dangerous sports in the world today. The drivers that put on their helmets and get into their vehicles put their lives on the line. Over the years, the sport has seen several crashes, which usually are a source of excitement for fans, but sometimes things just go too far and the driver ends up in a horrific state. While safety standards have gradually improved over the years, there have been quite a few fatal crashes in the history of the pinnacle of motorsport. The likes of Ayrton Senna, Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve and several others have suffered the horrific fate which shows the tremendous risk drivers take every time they step into their car.
In 2023, safety is the most important element in any Formula One race car. Through the most gruesome of crashes, drivers have come out seemingly unscathed in recent times, and that is something the FIA can be mighty proud of. The addition of the halo in 2018 was a revelation in F1 safety as it has proved its value time and again in the sport. However, there were some that were not quite as lucky. In this article, we look at the five most tragic crashes in Formula One history.
On lap 7 of the 1994 San Marino GP in Imola, as Senna rounded the fast Tamburello corner, his car veered off the racing line at a speed of about 307 km/h, continued off the track, and collided with the concrete retaining wall at a speed of about 233 km/h. Senna needed immediate medical attention because his temporal artery had ruptured, causing significant blood loss and a weak heartbeat. The initial treatment was performed by the side of the car. Senna had already lost 90% of his blood volume at this point, or about 4.5 litres, of blood. Senna passed away at 16:40 GMT, according to Maria Teresa Fiandri, director of Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital’s emergency room, but she claimed that under Italian law, his passing actually occurred at 12:17 GMT, when his head hit the wall and his brain stopped working.
Ayrton Senna was not the only man the Formula One world lost on that fateful weekend in 1994. Roland Ratzenberger, an Austrian driver, lost control at the Acqua Minerale chicane early in the qualifying session. Unbeknownst to him, the minor collision had broken his front wing; following a spin at the Tosa hairpin on the previous lap, as he attempted to turn into the high-downforce Villeneuve corner, it became lodged under the car and caused it to crash into the outside wall at 314.9 km/h. The highest g force for a crash in Formula 1 was experienced by Ratzenberger, whose crash was measured at about 500g. He was taken by ambulance to the medical facility at Imola Circuit and then by air ambulance to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, where he was admitted and later pronounced dead.
Many drivers were seriously hurt in the Monza mass collision of vehicles, including the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson. He had severe leg injuries when three other drivers helped him out of his burning car. He was taken to the hospital after a longer than anticipated wait for the ambulance to arrive. Peterson’s X-rays at the hospital revealed that he had about 27 fractures in his legs and feet. Peterson was placed in intensive care after talking with him so that the doctors could perform an operation to stabilise the bones. Peterson’s condition deteriorated through the night, and a fat embolism was determined to be the cause. Due to the embolism, he had fully developed kidney failure by morning. On September 11, 1978, at 9:55 am, he was pronounced dead.
Gilles Villeneuve was involved in a fatal collision during the qualifying session of the 1982 Belgian GP. He accelerated too quickly on the slower Jochen Mass, taking off into the air before crashing to the ground. By the time it was over, his car was in pieces. He was a passenger in a car seat belted when he died of a neck fracture. Many vehicles halted and sped to the scene. Villeneuve’s face was blue as John Watson and Derek Warwick removed him from the catch fence. Villeneuve was not breathing when the first doctor arrived, but his pulse was still present. He was intubated and given breathing assistance before being flown by helicopter to University St. Raphael Hospital in Leuven, where a fatal neck fracture was discovered. While his wife travelled to the hospital and the doctors sought advice from experts around the world, Villeneuve was kept alive on life support. At 21:12 CEST, he passed away.
Jules Bianchi passed away on July 17, 2015, nine months after colliding with a track-side vehicle at Suzuka, Japan. Before passing away, he spent nine months in a coma. The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was held on October 5 in the waning light of day and intermittently heavy downpours brought on by Typhoon Phanfone. Bianchi lost control of his vehicle on lap 43 of the competition, veering right towards the run-off area outside of the Dunlop Curve (turn seven) on the Suzuka Circuit. He ran into the back of a tractor crane that was removing Adrian Sutil’s Sauber from the track after Sutil had crashed and spun out in the same spot the lap before.
Racing record of the five legends lost to tragedy