Matters of moment, December 2014

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The Jules Bianchi tragedy has overshadowed everything in motor racing during the past month. In this issue both Mark Hughes and Nigel Roebuck offer perspective on the accident at Suzuka and its possible repercussions. Severe injury is mercifully rare in Grand Prix racing today, which is precisely why the shock felt by the F1 community and fans alike has been so profound.

Sadly, for the wider motor racing world, life-changing injuries and fatal accidents remain a stark reality. Again, perspective here is required. Motor sport at every level is safer now than it has ever been, and it would be untrue to claim tragedy is common away from the F1 limelight. Nevertheless, a couple of weeks after Suzuka, Irish rally driver Ryan Bradley lost his life in a crash on the Down Rally, just five months after three onlookers died in the Jim Clark Rally tragedy. Between times, young driver Timothy Cathcart perished on the Ulster Rally. Such occurrences caused great anguish in a tight-knit community.

On the circuits, historic motor sport has endured a tough year, too, with the deaths of VSCC regular Gary Whyte at Silverstone, Lotus racer Al Fleming at Hockenheim and the vastly experienced Denis Welch at the Silverstone Classic. Naturally, these tragedies didn’t generate the mass media coverage and debate that raged in the wake of Bianchi’s accident, but each case highlights that motor racing can never be safe – it can only be safer, as Sid Watkins once told Nigel (see page 19). The late F1 doctor, by the way, has a new hospital building named after him in his home town of Liverpool this month, reminding us once again that it wasn’t just in motor racing where the great neurosurgeon’s influence was felt.

The banging of a stable door is a regular echo after a tragedy, but that’s OK: better that than leaving it wide open for the next time. In this spirit, it was good to hear this month about a new initiative set up in the name of a much-missed rising star.

A year on from Porsche racer Sean Edwards’ senseless death at Queensland Raceway in Australia, in which he lost his life in the passenger seat while tutoring a pupil, the foundation created in his memory has launched a campaign to enhance safety procedures in the training of inexperienced drivers. The foundation promises to lobby national governing bodies to adopt a more rigorous standardised procedure any driver must go through before being allowed on track. Other initiatives include a mentoring programme for young talent – a subject close to Sean’s heart – and support for injured racing drivers facing rehabilitation.

No racing death should pass without a safety legacy. In Sean Edwards’ case, his foundation is guaranteeing that this happens.

Visit www.seanedwardsfoundation.com to find out more.

We congratulate new champions this month, as another racing season nears its completion. In particular, Jolyon Palmer’s crowning as Britain’s first GP2 champion since Lewis Hamilton merits acknowledgement – although of course it should also deserve a great deal more.

Palmer has a shot at an F1 race seat for next year – but it’ll cost him (or more accurately his sponsors and perhaps his father Jonathan). That’s the reality of motor racing in 2014, when the climb up the greasy pole to F1 is more treacherous than ever. It doesn’t have to be this way. John Surtees believes a true meritocracy could be sustainable, with successful drivers rewarded with opportunity, if only so much money didn’t flow out of the top of the sport. But the same old story of cold self-interest won’t allow such benefaction. An F1 prize drive, or at the very least a test, could be possible if the promoters ploughed just a fraction of their profits back into the sport.

As it is, Palmer has earned a chance – but merit alone might not be enough.

Of all the motor sport champions this year, Marc Márquez has to be the most remarkable. The 21-year-old has just eclipsed Mike Hailwood’s record as the youngest back-to-back champion in motorcycle racing’s premier class. The Spaniard is still fallible on occasion, but it seems Michael Schumacher, Sébastien Loeb and even Valentino Rossi have nothing on this young man when it comes to rapid rises to positions of dominance.

So what could be on the horizon for one who is achieving so much so early? We’d wager four wheels await him when (or if) he wants it. How about a try-out with McLaren-Honda next year, for starters? Ron Dennis will be well ahead of us on this one.

Rossi flirted with Ferrari, but never went all the way. Will Márquez? Sure, he’ll be motivated to rack up more in MotoGP for now, but the temptation to discover whether he can translate his otherworldly talents to cars will surely prove strong. If anyone can ‘do a Surtees’, it’s surely Márquez.

Kudos to Motor Sport web columnist Oliver Gavin this month, too. He’s had a disappointing year, by his high standards, for Corvette in US GT racing and at Le Mans, but in October he enjoyed a fantastic cameo in Australia’s greatest race, the Bathurst 1000.

Sharing a Walkinshaw Racing Holden with Nick Percat, Olly became the first European since Frank Biela in 1989 to score a podium finish on his debut, with a superb third place after a dramatic eight-hour race. Ahead of him, 46-year-old Paul Morris – who to my mind seems to have been around the Aussie tin-top scene forever – clocked up a surprise victory in partnership with Chaz Mostert, the Ford pair winning from the back of the grid. It just goes to show it’s never too late to land the big one.

Finally, we look forward to welcoming a new event to the calendar, right at the start of 2015. The first London Classic Car Show, on January 8-11, looks set to fill a gap by offering a large-scale draw to the capital for old-car enthusiasts. A clash with Autosport International in Birmingham is unfortunate and perhaps should be avoided in future years, but the event at the giant Excel centre in London promises some innovation to the staid car show format. Selections of classic road and racing cars will be fired up and driven on a central avenue down the middle of the Excel, we’re told.

To find out more, go to www.thelondonclassiccarshow.co.uk

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