Matt Bishop: 'Something is wrong when we allow a 9-year-old to be killed in the name of sport'

Motorcycle News

Racing is in thrall to the cult of youth but the death, earlier this month, of nine-year-old motorcycle racer Lorenzo Somaschini has prompted Matt Bishop to ask whether higher minimum age limits should be imposed

Lorenzo Somaschini image

Lorenzo Somaschini dreamt of a future in MotoGP

Eight days ago, on Monday June 17, Lorenzo Somaschini, a young motorcycle racer from Rosario, Argentina, died at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, São Paulo, Brazil, after an accident the previous Friday at Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagos, having initially been treated at Hospital Geral da Pedreira. He had been practising for a round of the Honda Junior Cup. Those are the bare facts.

He was nine years old. Yes, nine. There are no words that can adequately describe the tragedy of the violent death of one so young, or the abject devastation inflicted on the grieving family – in Lorenzo’s case his father Alfredo, his mother Carolina, and his sister Juana. It goes without saying that I extend my deepest condolences to them, as I am certain that you, reading these words, do also.

When I heard the news, I posted a tweet on Twitter/X, as follows: Yes, I know that motorsport will always be dangerous. But, even so, surely something is fundamentally wrong when we allow a 9-year-old to be killed on a motorcycle in the name of sport. It simply cannot be allowed to happen again. #RIPLorenzoSomaschini

Most of the replies to my tweet expressed agreement, or sorrow, or both. But, Twitter/X being Twitter/X, some responses were stupid, some heartless, and some bizarre. A few berated me for not having come up with a solution, or for demanding that children be banned from playing competitive sport, which of course I had not demanded at all. A handful drew idiotic false equivalences, one telling me that if I accepted that Formula 1 grands prix be run in the rain then I had no business tweeting that tragedies such as that which befell Somaschini were unacceptable. Another wrote: “Hang on, [are] you suggesting it’s possible to avoid any/all death for people aged under 16 years old?” No, obviously not. One even replied by telling me that Californians who allow children to “rething [sic] their gender” are a “SATANIC CULT” (his caps, not mine). No, I do not intend to debate that last point, not least because it has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the subject of either my tweet or this column. My god, Twitter/X really can be a toxic cesspit sometimes.

Matt Bishop Twitter-X post

So here, among a more sophisticated audience, you readers of Motor Sport, the world’s leading racing magazine (and now website) for the past 100 years, let us look at the subject less hysterically and more constructively. After all, lashing out at strangers (in this case me) in response to their (in this case my) respectful comments about the tragic death of a child, for the purpose of picking fights on Twitter/X, is, apart from anything else, disrespectful to the memory of that deceased child and disdainful of the feelings of his traumatised family.

We all accept the concept of age of consent. We all understand that young people develop the emotional maturity required to take part responsibly in certain acts well after they first become physically able to perform them. In the UK you must be 16 to have sex, to enter full-time work, and to join the armed forces; you must be 17 to drive a car and to ride a motorcycle on public roads; you must be 18 to marry, to buy cigarettes and alcohol, and to vote in elections. All countries adopt similar systems, even if the details differ. It is interesting to note that there is not one uniform age at which a young person is deemed legally able to take on either responsibility or risk. Why is it OK for 16-year-olds to have sex but not to drive cars on public roads? Why is it OK for 17-year-olds to ride motorcycles on public roads but not to vote in elections? I do not know, but those are the laws of the land.

Honda Junior Cup line up

The Honda Junior Cup is open to riders aged 8-16

Juliano Capretti/SuperBike Brasil

Clearly, if adults are to play professional sports at the highest level, as we exult in watching them do, they must learn their skills as children. Equally, because physical education is an integral part of the UK Department for Education’s national curriculum, sports are played in the UK by significantly more children than adults per capita, as a result of which more than half of all sports-related admissions to the accident and emergency departments of UK hospitals are teenagers. In his more introspective moments, when I worked with him at McLaren from 2008 to 2016, Ron Dennis often spoke of the problem, and in 2019 he put his money where his mouth was, setting up Podium Analytics, a science-led and data-driven non-governmental organisation and charity whose mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of injury in youth sports. I applaud him for it, as I expect you do, too.

All sports by their very nature involve human interactions that may legitimately be described as accidents waiting to happen, and children can therefore be injured playing any of them. However, deaths in the kinds of sports that children routinely play are thankfully very rare. Motor sport is much safer than it used to be, but it is still more dangerous than football, rugby, cricket, tennis, basketball, netball, etc. The purpose of this column is to ask a question, not to come up with a solution. A solution would and must involve the gathering of evidence, the testimony of experts, the analysis of medical records, etc. It would be impertinent if I were to attempt to come up with a solution here and now, without all that. No, what I am doing is asking a question, and that question is this: do you think that the age of consent for competitive motorcycle racing should be higher than it is now?

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And perhaps for competitive kart racing, too? Like motorcycle racing, kart racing is also less safe than the the kinds of sports that children routinely play, albeit not as dangerous as motorcycle racing. However, increasingly, karting is becoming ever more youth-oriented. In 1974, 50 years ago therefore, there were 4028 licensed karters in the UK, 3537 of them (ie, 88 per cent) seniors. And now? The senior/junior split is not recorded these days, so I will put it this way: the Association of British Kart Clubs reported in its recent annual general meeting that more than 70% of new Association of Racing Karts Schools tests were for juniors. That shift constitutes a demographic upheaval. A 60-something mate of mine who used to race karts recently sent me the following WhatsApp message: “Karting is being kidified.”

In 1980, at Jesolo, near Venice, Italy, Terry Fullerton overtook Ayrton Senna on the last lap of the Karting World Championship Final to win the Champions Cup. Senna was 20, Fullerton 27. After winning the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, his 41st and last F1 grand prix victory, Senna was asked in the post-race FIA press conference to name the driver whom he had most enjoyed racing. He thought long and hard, then spoke not of Alain Prost or Nelson Piquet or Nigel Mansell but instead said: “Fullerton. Terry Fullerton. He was very experienced, and I enjoyed very much driving with him because he was fast, he was consistent. He was, for me, a very complete driver. I have that as a very good memory.”

1. Ayrton Senna karting in the 1981 World Championship

Senna still karting in the 1981 World Championship


It would be inconceivable now that a driver who would end up winning three F1 drivers’ world championships, as Senna did, could still be karting at 20. Equally, there are now far fewer Fullertons — serious adult karters — than there were then. Senna was 21 when he began racing cars (Formula Ford 1600). He was 22 when he moved up to Formula Ford 2000. He was 23 when he made his Formula 3 debut, winning the British F3 Championship, beating his fierce rival Martin Brundle, who was 24. Nowadays, drivers who are still racing in F3 in their 20s are reckoned to have missed the F1 boat.

A cult of youth got a hold of driver selection where rookies were concerned. It is not necessarily a good thing

But how can that be logical, when Ferrari is prepared to hire a man who will be 40 when he makes his debut for the Scuderia next year, and when the Aston Martin F1 team’s number-one driver will turn 43 next month? Do not misunderstand me. I am not dissing either Ferrari or Aston Martin. Equally, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso remain fit and fast, both of them still among the very best drivers in F1. Why, therefore, should excellent F3 and even F2 drivers 20 years their junior be written off as too old? It makes no sense.

For example, Ollie Bearman was 18 when he raced for Ferrari in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix three months ago, and he will drive for Haas in F1 next year. Bearman is a good driver, but Théo Pourchaire, Frederik Vesti, Jack Doohan, Ayumu Iwasa, and Victor Martins all beat him in last year’s F2 championship, yet none of them has bagged a 2025 F1 drive, and all of them are in their 20s. Senna was 24 when he made his F1 debut, as was Prost. Piquet was 25 when he drove his first F1 grand prix. Mansell was 27 when he broke his F1 duck. No-one thought those four F1 rookies too old, and they were right not to do so, for they were not, and they all went on to win a ton of F1 grands prix and world championships.

Max Verstappen in Toro Rosso cockpit at 2015 Japanese Grand Prix

Max Verstappen was 17 when he first competed in F1 for Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen’s impact on F1 has been and remains enormous. But perhaps the biggest change that he has wrought on top-tier motor sport has been as much a result of his fast-track arrival as of his undoubtedly colossal ability. When, in Melbourne in 2015, that oh-so-precocious Dutch 17-year-old made his F1 debut then began to assemble a magnum opus of quick-fire success more rapidly than anyone had ever done before, he revolutionised the world of single-seater racing. Overnight, a cult of youth got a hold of driver selection where rookies were concerned, and its grip remains vicelike still. It is not necessarily a good thing.

As I say, my aim in writing this column is to ask a question, to which I hope wiser and more influential folk than I will bend their minds. To repeat, my question is: do you think that the age of consent for competitive motorcycle racing should be higher than it is now? I will add: do you think that the age of consent for competitive kart racing should be higher than it is now? Please have a think about both questions, bearing in mind the booming popularity, growing reputability, and increasing realism and authenticity of modern sim racing, which is a 100% safe alternative to circuit racing and is being embraced enthusiastically by racers in the very age group about which it is clear that I am becoming ever more concerned. And, finally, if your answers to both my questions are “no”, for both competitive motorcycle racing and competitive kart racing, please have a think about how you would reply to the broken-hearted mother of a nine-year-old boy who had been killed in a motorcycle racing or kart racing accident, if she were to ask you: “Do you think my nine-year-old son had the emotional maturity to understand his situation fully, and thereby to give the informed consent required to take on the mortal danger to which he was being exposed?”

May perpetual light shine upon poor Lorenzo Somaschini, and may he rest in peace.