At 200mph, you and I would be transfixed, white-knuckling the steering wheel, holding our breath, fearing to blink lest we missed some vital visual clue.
But for Michele Alboreto, travelling at such velocities was almost an everyday experience. His shoulders and arms would’ve been relaxed, his eyes flicking down into the cockpit taking in readouts, his mind filing away information to be passed on later to his eager-to-know engineers. Straight up and down stuff. No problem. Run of the mill. His death in testing has come as a huge blow. A reminder of the inherent dangers of our sport.
A few days before, I had been chewing the fat with a regular contributor and the topic of 1960s F1 privateer Bob Anderson cropped up. Without wishing to glory in the gory, this talented ex-bike racer met a horrible death while testing at Silverstone in August 1967, his ‘dash’ to hospital including a considerable distance on the back of a lorry, such was the paucity of emergency and medical cover available back then.
The change in attitudes and advances in safety have been remarkable in their speed and scope in recent years. It wasn’t so long ago that a key moment in a young driver’s career — especially a hard-charger — was his first big accident. How he dealt with it, what he learnt from it, would probably shape the rest of his career. There was a strong possibility, of course, that he might not get a chance to put any such measures into action. It was not a sign of callousness, more symptomatic of the times, when one driver, while talking about a contemporary early-1960s hotshoe, once told me, “He was quick, I’ll give him that. He’s dead too, I’ll give him that as well.”
Of course, young guys in racing cars will always overstep the mark. It’s just that nowadays, happily, they tend to step out of the ensuing wrecks.
But what of the old hands? His Fl peers had spoken to Michele about stopping. But he didn’t want to. He loved it so. He was looking forward to plunging through the Le Mans night at 220mph, avoiding much slower cars with semi-pro drivers at their helm. The buzz was still there; it wasn’t Fl, but it was close enough.
Derek Bell, approaching 60 but looking 15 years younger, reckons the speed is still there for him to be competitive at Le Mans, but he’s no longer prepared to undertake the necessary fitness regime. Just think of how many times he has blatted down the Mtdsanne. Incredible. I am not a fan of the race — 24 minutes or 24 laps, and I’d be there — but I am truly in awe of the guys who put in those night stints.
Motorsport is a mixture of the good and the bad, of heroism and tragedy and, thankfully, Derek is still around to illuminate and share this mix with us. Michele, sadly, is not. And yet he will always be with us. DB4 Aston, E-9peJag, G70s and Healey kramble’ in the 1962 Le Mans 24 Hours
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