On August 31, 2019, French racing driver Anthoine Hubert was killed in a horrific accident at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Stavelot, Belgium during a Formula 2 feature race.
During lap two of the race, drivers Anthoine Hubert, Juan-Manuel Correa, and Giuliano Alesi were involved in a crash whilst cresting a hill into turn five. This accident lead to Hubert striking the retaining barrier to his right and spinning near the edge of the track after avoiding a driver with a puncture. This led to Juan-Manuel Correa struck him on the left side, killing Hubert and severely injuring Correa’s legs and spine. After the crash, the race was halted and then cancelled whilst emergency responders and recovery teams assisted in the accident.
The Eau-Rouge and Radillon corners have come under scrutiny in the past due to the danger involved in these corners. To start with, Eau Rouge is a flat-out left hand turn, leading to an immediate right-left chicane heading uphill, which reduces mechanical grip and mostly eliminates visibility for the time taken to travel up the hill. This visibility elimination is part of the cause of the crash, as Correa couldn’t see Hubert’s car and thus couldn’t react in time.
Unfortunately, due to the natural geography of the Ardennes forest, this corner set can’t be modified. On the left side, there is a ridge immediately behind the barriers, and to the right, there’s a ravine, dropping about twelve meters, eliminating a barrier modification. However, a vital part of track safety, known as the run-off area, can be modified. Currently, the run-off area for Eau-Rouge and Radillon is asphalt, which raises questions for incentivising drivers to run wide in order to go faster through the corners. This run-off area could be replaced with gravel in patches near the barriers, or replaced completely to assist in stopping a vehicle faster, although gravel isn’t a perfect solution, either. When a vehicle, (in this case a Formula One or Formula Two car) come into contact with a deep gravel patch at high speed, the gravel acts as water would if you skipped a stone onto it, and instead of slowing the vehicle the gravel will throw it into the air, negating the gravel entirely.
Another topic of conversation is crash safety in these vehicles. As explained on Jalopnik.com;
“Crash structures absorb the energy of the impact and help reduce deceleration, often on a linear axis,” and “..At that point, the structure is finished, and can no longer absorb impact efficiently. If you have another impact on a structure, it leaves the driver relatively vulnerable.”
That being said, the FIA (Federation Internationale del’Automobile) does not take this accident lightly. As of September 13, a federal and FIA-organized investigation is being launched in order to pick out any possible safety improvements that could be made to either the cars, track or both, which will likely become effective immediately or in the next racing season. In an interview on September 2, Michael Masi, the race organizer and lead in the investigation said, “The investigation started only yesterday, and there are many different facets of this accident, so I won’t be going into any details as of yet.”
Memorials continued into that Sunday, with early karting rival and friend Charles Leclerc dedicating his maiden victory for Scuderia Ferrari to Anthoine and said after the fact, “It is just a shame what happened yesterday. I can’t fully enjoy my first victory but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.”
Daniel Ricciardo, a Renault Formula One driver also questioned racing that day. After the Formula One race in which he fought to 11th place after a first-lap mishap, he said, “It was tough, it was certainly tough to be there and try to put on a brave face for everyone. I know a lot of people in the paddock are hurting after yesterday.”
Unfortunately the tragic and horrific events at Spa-Francorchamps are a costly reminder that any sport-especially including motorsports, are dangerous. Compared to the 1960’s and 1970’s, vehicles and tracks have made massive leaps in safety technology to get to where we are now, and yet as a community, racing still isn’t (and likely won’t ever be) 100% safe. That is why these accidents that take lives and end careers hurt the racing world so much. At the center of this accident was a 22-year old man, who had just started to hit his stride in Formula Two and who would later become a Formula One driver, in the pinnacle of motorsport. This accident is proof that safety must be imperative in racing, beyond what it is now. There simply can’t be any more “one-in-a-billion” chances.
UPDATE: As of 9-18-19, Juan Manuel Correa is being held in a medically induced coma in an Intensive-Care unit in a London Hospital, following a massive respiratory failure as a symptom of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a common health issue in high-impact racing incidents.
UPDATE: As of 10-1-19, Correa is fully conscious and in preparation for surgery on his right leg due to the severe fractures.