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GP Week : Issue 227
OPINION Mat COCh Editor During the week a news story out of the us has caught my attention. At the heart of the matter was the subject of gay marriage, but that in itself wasn’t what caught my eye. Instead it was the ferocity and passion of the arguments from both sides. For those that haven’t seen it, a county clerk has been found in contempt of court because she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Gay marriage in the US was legalised in June, but the clerk felt it encroached on her religious belief. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that are, and I’m not here to enter that debate, what proved fascinating was reading the comments below each article. It would be fair to say opinion was split, with some defending the clerk and her right to object on religious grounds while on the other side of the ledger it was argued that issuing the licences was her job and if she refused to do it she should be sacked. What’s all this got to do with motorsport and Formula One I hear you ask? Following the death of Justin Wilson the debate surrounding closed cockpits has come to the fore once again. It’s a topic that incites the passion of fans, drivers, pundits and everyone else. There are a million passionate opinions but no obvious answers. It’s such a divisive topic because it cuts to the heart of what open wheel racing is all about. Historically, Formula One has always been for open top cars. Since the sport’s inception a century or so ago, and the advent of formula racing, that has been the standard. Of course over time things have changed. The sight of drivers hanging out the side of their cars as they cornered are long gone. Drivers now wear helmets, rather than leather skull caps and fire suits rather than t-shirts and bow ties. There are safety cells, tethered wheels and crash structures, every single one designed to make the sport safer. Externally there have been significant changes too. The circuits are safer with vast tarmac run off areas replacing the grass verges which once bordered the circuit. Once upon a time drivers would drop a wheel off the circuit, often deliberately, to kick stones up at the chasing car to give themselves a little breathing space. There is absolutely no doubt that thanks to advancements over the decades the sport is safer than it has ever been. Formula One went more than two decades without a fatal accident and in that time we witnessed some horrific crashes – Robert Kubica at Canada springs instantly to mind. The sport has come a long, long way to the point it is all but unrecognisable from its early years. It has progressed and developed and things that were once a drivers worst fear are brushed aside without a second thought. Fire isn’t the hazard it once was and it’s rare that a driver misses an event or season because he stuffed it in the hedge and injured himself – or the car failed and injured him, as was often the case. Of course the sport remains dangerous. We all know that and the drivers accept that when they get in the car. The argument now is whether that danger is part of the sport and therefore acceptable or whether we should be working towards an environment which is completely safe. And so the subject of canopies has emerged, and I don’t know how to feel about it. I’m a traditionalist, I look back at the history books with rose tinted glasses and long for a style of racing that was extinct long before I was born. At the same time I don’t want to lose friends to the sport. I want my cake and to eat it, and I don’t think that's unique to me. Jenson Button said much the same thing when he spoke about closed cockpits in Monza. From his voice it was clear the topic was close to his heart and he was not alone. Daniel Ricciardo seemed almost angry at the situation, that head injuries have become almost common place in modern motorsport. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know looking into the future of the sport is a must. It is imperative that we, as a motorsport community, agree upon what is acceptable. Is it still acceptable that, occasionally, we will lose drivers to this sport? Is that more acceptable than sanitising it and removing all elements of mortal risk? Whatever happens next cannot please anyone. It will reshape our sport for the forseeable future, but such is the march of progress. Image: Andries van Overbeeke 16 GPWEEK.com // 16 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION challenging tradition