Misinformation clouds F1 debate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 1994, 12:00am

THERE has been much ill-informed comment following the tragic deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the San Marino Grand Prix. One correspondent, Henry Combe (Sports Post May 16), implies he is knowledgeable because he ''designed and raced cars'' during the period 1957-1970. Your readers may wish to know that Mr Combe has never been involved, to my knowledge, at the top level of motor racing.

His implication that all the previous world champions died at the wheel is also untrue. Ayrton Senna is the only Formula One world champion to ever die during a Formula One race. Jim Clark was killed during an F2 race at Hockenheim; Graham Hill died piloting a light plane; Mike Hawthorn died in a road crash; James Hunt sadly succumbed to a heart attack only last year; and even New Zealander Denis Hulme who left us in 1992 apparently had a heart attack during a touring car race in Australia. Phil Hill, by the way, is still alive, Mr Combe, as is Jackie Stewart, champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973.

The writer suggests that active suspension and computerised driver aids, such as traction control and ABS may have been contributory factors to Senna's and Ratzenberger's accidents. The world championship has been going since 1950 and only in the past two seasons have electronic systems been effective on Formula One cars. It is ludicrous to suggest that the cars have become less controllable as a result of the FIA's ban on such systems.

Finally, to further indicate the inaccuracy of Mr Combe's letter: it was the front wing of Ratzenberger's Simtek which apparently caused the accident, not the rear wing; and we may never know what caused poor Senna's accident, but we do know that part of the car's front suspension pierced the Brazilian's helmet, effectively killing him instantly.