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F1's last major turning point



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Nicola Larini


Ferrari 412T1




1994 San Marino GP


It is the irony of Nicola Larini's F1 career that he should score his best F1 result in exactly the Grand Prix producing the biggest modern-day tragedy of the sport.

The man from Camaiore had been a faithful Ferrari tester for years, sacrificing his own claim to F1 fame for the good of the Italian 'national' team, when Jean Alesi's bad luck finally left him with a chance to race the pretty competitive 412T1 at Aida and Imola. His first race was short-lived, punting off the luckless Ayrton Senna at the start and retiring himself in the process. What was he to know that the victim of his mistake should be the unwanted center of attention in a macabre weekend two weeks on?

The events of those bright Spring days in Italy will forever be clouded by intense horror. They have been recollected many times since, not least in the court room, where the debate on the supposedly faulty Williams steering column seemed to carry for ages.

The contrast with the early days of F1 couldn't be more staggering. Back then a champion's death was mourned as a personal tragedy, after which everyone carried on with the business, but since the eighties a safety myth slowly started to grow. Meanwhile the technology-driven sport had seen drivers attacking the same old corners with ever increasing cornering speeds - waiting for an serious accident to happen. We were given fair warning with the testing accidents of Lehto, Lamy and Zanardi's big one at Spa, but with the safety myth blurring our view, we didn't see it coming. So when it finally happened, it happened with a bang.

This was no longer a personal tragedy to Senna and Ratzenberger. The sporting authorities received the double tragedy as a tragedy for the sport, the judicial authorities as a menace to society. In our safety-conscious minds getting on with the business was out of the question, especially after Wendlinger's and Montermini's cruel luck gave another two rude wake-up calls.

As a result several great corners were emasculated - in the case of Eau Rouge only temporarily, thank God.

Still, we shouldn't complain. Would Jos Verstappen have survived his heavy '96 Spa shunt had it not been for the shoulder pads? Nowadays deaths are rightly seen as an motorsport innecessity but somehow in our hearts we still favour the motion of Jacques Villeneuve to bring back more of the thrills F1 gave us in the past. Would he be the only current F1 driver who still sees death as an occupational hazard? By his remark that his Eau Rouge smacker at the 1999 Belgian GP was his "best crash ever" you'd think so.

But now we're on the subject: if they all go on about safety, why not ban refuelling?