Motorsport – a charity in need?

Motor Racing – Formula One Testing – Test Two – Day 1 –  Barcelona, Spain

I mentioned recently about the formation of the Association of Performance Driving Instructors (APDI) and the fact it was being brought together on the back of a number of concerns instructors had been voicing for years regarding safety. There had been too many spills and unnecessary incidents over the years.

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I was reminded of a Ferrari I embarrassingly shunted – as the instructor – because my “regular” leather-soled shoes that I was obliged to wear for the purposes of looking neat and tidy did not have a terrific relationship with the polished metal surface of the brake pedal. I was mortified of course but this pales into insignificance at the recent loss of Sean Edwards who was instructing and as a hapless passenger lost his life in what looks to have been a horrifically hard impact with little or no abatement in speed. This has only heightened the concerns the instructors have regarding safety and I am pleased to say we now have one of the established F1 driver coaches amongst the ranks.

I guess insurance is one of those things people most want after the disaster – we are all immune aren’t we – until such time the “other person” is “this” person and it took the horrendous weekend of 1994 at Imola where two drivers lives were cut short to galvanise the Grand Prix Drivers Association into a more harmonious group to speak as a collective regarding driver safety. The FIA, circuits and manufacturers all did their bit over the following years – and continue to do so. F1 has grown even more since the demigod days of Senna so in the corporately sanitised world we live in today, spilt blood let alone loss of life has greater resonances, but the GPDA did speak as a voice that was listened to. At the time I was Divisional Director of a company that was already insuring a number of F1 Drivers and working closely with the GPDA we introduced not just a terrific group package which delighted many in their quest for lower premiums, but also what was then-unheard-of liability insurance. Many of the F1 teams who also had their insurances with us had the advantage of what was the widest and most comprehensive third-party cover – but there were limitations too on what the drivers had.

I don’t believe an F1 driver’s perspective and his assessment of “danger” are really any different to that of a club race driver.

The loss of Senna had caused a ripple effect and with death, on Italian soil, the law of the land was that an individual was to be found “responsible”. I think Frank Williams stayed away from Italy for a few years, but the culpability of accidents focused the drivers’ minds on a need to protect themselves – from one another – especially the ones on the high salaries and sponsor endorsements aplenty. The case of Senna had a huge ripple effect across the insurance market. The final “loss” was about six times the value of Senna’s own policy as prudent sponsors cashed in their own contingent insurance policies, but drivers started to look at each other and ask – “what if the law of the land decides it is my fault?”

The creation of what was the first-ever policy to cover one driver’s possibly negligent actions against another was groundbreaking stuff – if ever insurance can be seen in that light – but we delivered what was asked for and something that had not been done before. It was all a terrific success – so successful was it that only a handful of drivers actually took up the option. The others argued that £1,500 to protect £5m was all too expensive… yep – that is actually what some F1 drivers pleaded – but I guess times were err… different then?

It probably all comes back to the fallacy that we all believe it will never happen to us. I don’t believe an F1 driver’s perspective and his assessment of “danger” are really any different to that of a club race driver. I mentioned before about how it seems to be the younger competitor who when injured seeks to “blame” someone else as opposed to just accepting that they really might get hurt racing. My outwardly lonely campaign of “I’m insured – are you?” emblazoned across the front of the car I race has slightly more foundation to it than meets the eye. The young ladies who volunteered to speak and survey a considerable number of drivers were genuinely shocked themselves at the answers and blasé attitude towards protecting themselves against the bleedin’ obvious.

I was reminded of a New Zealand driver Chris Van der Drift who lived up to his name and drifted into the air after hitting a car in front in a horrific Superleague accident at Brands Hatch. He was catapulted into the air and after striking the support of the bridge, his car was launched into a dizzying series of spins, briefly catching fire, and came to rest in the middle of the track on its side. The wreckage was narrowly missed by following cars as it came to rest at the bottom of the dip in the circuit. After being stabilised at the scene, where he was conscious and talking to medics, he was taken to hospital and underwent a surgical procedure on his injured hand.

What followed I personally found quite bizarre – there was an actual Appeal to help raise funds for a slightly injured driver who did not have insurance. Mark Weber had even been drafted in to help raise the much-needed funds… This was all just nuts to me. Why did the driver not have adequate insurance in the first place? Why had the team, manager and/ or organisers not taken the simple step of establishing if a driver all the way from the other side of the globe has adequate insurance – especially if he was taking part in a “dangerous sport”?

I stumbled across an established motorsport forum and the first couple of comments caught my eye:

“In fact, as far as I am concerned his manager should never be allowed to be the manager of a professional driver again. How can someone ‘forget’ to insure his driver for personal injury due to accidents? but still claim all the prize money said driver won?” And…

“It’s pretty daft for any driver to compete at an international level without adequate insurance, whether in this case that was Chris’s fault or someone else’s is impossible to say.”

My company was asked to make a “Donation” – I thought about this for a moment and also thought about 4 million people at the time who were left homeless in Pakistan due to the flooding and pondered who might be most in need – they probably did not even have the option of insurance and I wonder how much of the Webber supported appeal found it’s way to slightly more needy causes…

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