Most Tragic Deaths Of Formula One Drivers

Tragedy does not follow those who dream—or so people thought. However, in the world of racing, you must always face the possibility of being in danger. When racers have their game face on, it’s hard to have second-thoughts of how to manoeuvre the car—winning is what dominates the mind. That is why there are instances when they realize that they made a wrong move seconds too late.

From 1950 where Cameron Earl, the first recorded racer who died on the race track,  met his death until today, several passionate drivers and more passionate fans woe the deaths of some of the most promising racers. While most of these deaths are due to unforeseen mishaps with the car, some of them are also because of a heated wheel-on-wheel race and some are because a racer has gone overboard or made a wrong turn.

To commemorate some of the best racers who gave their life on a race track, here is a list of the most tragic deaths in the history of Formula 1 racing.

1. Tom Pryce- 1977

Shortly before the race started, Pryce was heard saying that he was afraid to die and what it would cause towards the people he loved. He might or might not have expected what was about to happen on the track that day in 1977; which until this day is one of the most bizarre accidents.

In the middle of the race track, Renzo Zorzi’s Shadow came to a halt. Two marshalls, including 19-year old Jansen van Vuuren, rushed to aid the racer. However, at the exact moment, Pryce was driving at a full speed of 160mph. He hit van Vuuren, who died instantly. However, the fire extinguisher that the young man was carrying was tossed into the air and hit Pryce right in his head, leaving him dead in the cockpit. His car crashed into the fencing and his wife, who was watching from the grandstand, was left shocked and grieving.

2. Ronnie Peterson- 1978

Ronnie Peterson's crash

Photo source: https://gforcef1.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/forgotten-heroes-ronnie-peterson/

The tragic death of this promising racer has been one of the most grieved about until today. For one, Peterson should not have been involved in the said accident. He was but a casualty in an 8-car pile-up that trapped his car.

The race started and everybody was lining up. When the flag was finally dropped, some cars were still rolling into their position. Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows touched the McLaren of James Hunt, which spun towards Peterson’s Lotus 78. Peterson was pushed towards the right side of the track and crushed the front of his car. Vittorio Brambilla’s Surtees tried to avoid the collision but ended up crashing into Peterson’s. The Lotus 78 then went into flames. Everyone in the audience was devastated to see events unfold.

Seeing the accident, James Hunt immediately got out of his car and pulled Peterson out from the burning mess. The Italian police went to the crash site and did not let anyone pass. It was about 11-18 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Patterson was admitted to the hospital but still died of fat embolism, which one can get from severe thigh fractures. His partner, Mario Andretti, won the race, but the victory was not felt as they grieve for the death of their teammate.

3. Gilles Villeneuve- 1982

The tragedy of Villeneuve was caused by a heated battle between racers. At the beginning of the race, Gilles was feeling furious for his teammate’s duplicity. Didier Pironi stole victory from Villeneuve even when Ferrari told them that the latter should lead.

When there was just about 10 minutes left, Villeneuve guessed that he once again failed to beat the lap time of Pironi. Finally, he was signalled to return to pits so he drove flat-out towards it. At the exact time, Jochen Mass was also heading towards the pit. When Villeneuve accelerated his Terlamenbotcht towards the right, Mass backed off and pulled right from the racing line. The Terlamenbotcht slammed hard onto Mass’s right rear at 140 mph. It was tossed into the air, flipped, and crashed back onto the ground. The nose of the car was wrenched off and the impact tore Villeneuve’s helmet from his head. He ended up being thrown out of the Ferrari. Spectators were speechless at the accident.

Mass, on the other hand, was able to swerve left and avoid the Ferrari as it cartwheeled across the track. He left his car and aided the driver in the smashed vehicle. The race was stopped and Villeneuve was rushed to the hospital. However, a fatal fracture in the neck left him dead. The incident is still one of the most shocking and dramatic crashes in the field of motorsports.

4. Ayrton Senna- 1994

Ayrton Senna's Crash

Photo source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekzXk0AQcx8

The death of Ayrton Senna was the second one that took place during that week of the San Marino Grand Prix. Before him, Austrian racer Roland Ratzenberger met his death in a similar tragic crash. Senna’s team remembered that the night he discovered his fellow racer is dead, he cried and could not be consoled. By the time he was to be on the race track himself, he still looked concerned. He was aware that the cars were not fit to race at that time. In fact, he was seen checking the car’s rear. However, even with his agitation and anxiety, he still chose to go on with the race.

At the beginning of the race, 3 crashes already happened and it seemed to everybody that the race track is cursed. Senna, however, did what every racer should do—he was driving at his best speed and avoided the collision. He was surpassed only by two drivers at this. However, when he came around the Tamburello curve, those who were following him noticed how his car was not responding the way it should be; the chassis rattles over bumps. Seconds later, what Senna feared to happen did come true. He ploughed through a gravel trap at great speed and went straight into a wall. His car took a maximum force, the wheels flew off, and he became trapped between the wall and undercarriage. This crash is known to be one of the largest and most shocking in the history of F1 racing. The three-time world racing champion did not get out of the crash alive.

5. Jules Bianchi- 2015

The most recent death in the F1 racing happened to Jules Bianchi. When the Japanese Grand Prix was held on 2014, the weather was bad and they were riding under heavy rainfall. When Bianchi was on his 43rd lap, he suddenly lost control of the car and drove to the run-off area, outside the Dunlop curve. He then crashed into the tractor crane tending to Adrian Sutil’s Sauber, which crashed on the same spot a lap before. Bianchi’s roll bar was destroyed and his car received extensive damage. The impact was hard. The tractor crane moved and dropped the Sauber. The race was immediately stopped.

Bianchi was rushed to the hospital and was admitted under intensive care after he underwent surgery. However, his body gave up after 9 months and he finally died in 2015.

Tragic events such as these raised awareness to the dangers of racing. Most of them led to the implementation of safety and security rules. So while a lot of people grieve for the loss of these prominent racers, they will still be remembered.

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