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GP Week : Issue 186
It is easy to get complacent about driver safety, to fall into the trap of assuming that because things are not as bad as they once were, they must be good. And it cannot be denied that Formula One is far safer in the modern era than it was three, four, or five decades ago. But a major contributing factor to improved safety standards over the years has been direct action from the drivers themselves, who have used boycotts – or threats of boycott – to affect real change. Famously, the Nurburgring has been the scene of more than one driver boycott in its history. Following the death of Piers Courage at Zandvoort during the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix, the GPDA agreed to boycott the German race – still run on the fearsome Nordschleife – unless dramatic improvements were made to safety standards at the circuit, including the reprofiling of parts of the track and the installation of Armco barriers. The decision to pull out was taken at the French Grand Prix, one month before the scheduled Nurburgring race, and with not enough time to make the required modifications, the 1970 German Grand Prix was moved to the more modern Hockenheimring. Following Niki Lauda’s life- threatening crash at the Nurburgring in 1976, the Nordschleife was abandoned by Formula One and Hockenheim played host to the German Grand Prix until 1984. Driver pressure worked in Germany, and the owners of the Nurburgring constructed the modern Grand Prix Circuit still in use today. Similar pressures had been brought to bear on Spa, the modern drivers’ favourite, in 1969. While concerns over driver safety at the fearsome Ardennes circuit had been building for years, Brian Redmond’s 1968 crash – with a parked Ford Cortina on the public roads that played host to the race – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the run-up to the 1969 race, the GPDA flexed its muscle, insisting that no driver would race on high-speed public roads lined with houses, trees, and telegraph poles, protected only by a series of hay bales. If Spa-Francorchamps wanted to be the Belgian home of Formula One, Armco was non-negotiable. Jackie Stewart – whose driver safety crusade started following his horrific crash in Spa in 1966 – visited the track two months before the scheduled grand prix, inspecting it on behalf of the GPDA. In addition to insisting on Armco barriers, the Scottish racer requested that certain sections of track be resurfaced, improving conditions for the drivers who had long complained of being unable to see as they raced along the main straight, so great were the vibrations in the cockpit. The circuit officials refused to make the requested improvements, using costs as an excuse. But the GPDA stood firm, and the British, French, and Italian teams all withdrew from the Belgian Grand Prix. The race was pulled from the calendar, and returned with safety improvements in 1970. It was to be a temporary return; in 1971 the track failed to pass the minimum safety standards demanded by the FIA, and the Belgian Grand Prix was cancelled before moving to Zolder and Nivelles for the next decade. But while the protests and boycotts in Belgium and Germany had the desired effect, forcing the circuits to make much-needed improvements in line with a world whose expectations were evolving, the GPDA do not have an entirely successful track record when it comes to protests. The 1975 Spanish Grand Prix was perhaps the worst example of a GPDA protest gone wrong. When the teams arrived at Montjuic for the fourth round of the season, there were safety concerns throughout the pitlane. Teams and drivers alike were so concerned about the barriers, which had not been bolted together, and the bulk of drivers went on strike, refusing to take part in practice. Mechanics and engineers set to work doing what they could to fix the barriers, working Jackie stewart – from villain to hero When Jackie stewart first began to campaign for improved safety standards in Formula One, the scottish racer faced vocal opposition not only from circuit owners and race organisers, but also from his colleagues, some of whom called the triple world champion a coward. Thanks to stewart’s work, drivers now take barriers, safety harnesses, and trackside doctors and fire crews for granted. But without the boycotts he organised, it would have taken Formula One far longer to modernise. stewart is now as celebrated for his work to improve safety as he is for his achievements behind the wheel. The 1966 Belgian Grand Prix was a watershed for Driver Power – Graham Hill (pictured) was forced to help his injured team-mate Jackie Stewart, trapped in his crashed BRM, out of the petrol-soaked car. This is the incident which would set Stewart on the path of F1 safety and the GPDA ... 22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: >>> F1 FEATUrE