In a major cycle race, many crashes occur towards the end, especially if teams are building up for a mass high-speed sprint. The effects of a multi-rider pile-up are often catastrophic and injuries can be severe. For this reason individual timings are ‘neutralised’ in the last three kilometres so that involved riders will get the same time as the majority of finishers, a time they would otherwise have achieved. That’s fair enough.
Just lately though there has been a call to extend that ‘time neutralised’ zone and that it should be extended out to five kilometres on the basis that, at that distance, the attack build-up would not have started thus ensuring that all competitors at least maintain a reasonable placing overall. Adopting this daft idea is where it will all go wrong.
The Thin End Of The Wedge
It’s not that the racing will be any less fierce but it is the thin end of the wedge when it comes to regulating the sport. Over-regulating eventually kills the thing it regulates. Accidents are the cyclist’s nightmare but they accept injury as part of the activity and, in fact, more cyclists are injured when out training because of inept or dangerous driving by motorists since they are not on protected routes, as in the Tour de France for example.
Whenever a sports person is injured or killed whilst participating in their event, there is an outcry. There is nothing like a good accident to bring out the nay-sayers. As a certain J. Clarkson pointed out ages ago, how long – to paraphrase – will it be before we are all walking about with a safety barrier around us? It is precisely this sort of thing that will be the ruin of motor sport.
Meanwhile, In Belgium
At the recent Belgian Grand Prix some drivers were trialling the ‘Halo’ device which is designed to protect drivers from flying debris. It just looks wrong. Drivers don’t seem to like it. Why not dome the cockpit completely? Would it still be an F1 car?
When racers goes out on the track they know there is an outside chance he or she will not come back alive. It is an inherently dangerous activity, but then we have always known that. Today, F1 is safer than it has ever been yet accidents still happen. Look at the freak series of events that lead to the tragic death of Jules Bianci. How can you legislate for that without totally neutering the sport?
Sometimes common sense prevails. At the Isle of Man TT races, rarely a year goes by without a rider being killed yet the event remains as popular as ever and all those who participate would not have it any other way. In other forms of motor sport, as inevitably as the turning of the tide, there is an ‘outcry’ and new rules are introduced in an attempt to eliminate accidents. Equally as inevitable is the fact that the racing becomes tepid and unexciting as a result. F1 is a case in point. For the most part, has there ever been a more boring motor racing spectacle?
Why do people take their children to the edges of stormy seas when dire warnings have been broadcast about adverse conditions? Why do athletes continue to leap and run when they know they can trip on hurdles and break their legs. A fall from a competitive horse can result in death. We all know this and yet built into our DNA is a desire to test ourselves, to take risks, to challenge nature.
Those who would remove all manner of risk from our lives do so out of fear. They don’t want to be held responsible so to ensure this they purport to behave responsibly. It’s happening all the time on a street near you. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.
Obviously on our crowded highways we must have rules for motorists. The trouble is in the manner in which they are interpreted by the rulers. They simply refuse to accept that accidents happen. How else do you explain, when cars have never been safer, that the number of car injuries and fatalities has risen?
Often the cause of an accident is not the machinery or the location or the weather but rather the stupidity or ignorance of the person or persons involved. You can’t always protect people from themselves. It is human nature to do daft things either by accident or design. Without this urge Everest would not have been conquered or the moon witness a giant leap.
Does Autonomous Mean Risk Free?
In the case of most motor sport, all the rules and regulations have made racing boring in that ‘follow-my-leader’ way. Rallying on the other hand shows that cars can be so well built that even at WRC levels – which is faster and more hair-raising than ever – rarely is there any fatalities or, indeed, serious injury.
Although properly usable autonomous cars are still a longer way off than we might be lead to believe it does ultimately herald a new era of motoring. We are being saved from ourselves. The pleasures of driving are to be denied to us. In, what, fifty years time, I suspect that motor racing as we know it will have all but disappeared.
As we all live safer and thus longer lives by not drinking alcohol or eating tasty things or riding a bike downhill very fast or playing in the ocean or climbing a mountain or driving fast on a motor racing track or doing any of the things that make us fallibly human we will lose the very survival instincts that keep us truly alive. Geoff Maxted