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Why racers take risks and why we love them for it
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Why racers take risks and why we love them for it
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Feb 2011   |  6:57 pm GMT  |  190 comments

‘Did you never think of stopping Robert (Kubica) from taking part in rallies?’ asked L’Equipe newspaper to Renault team boss Eric Boullier today.

“Not for one second,” replied Boullier, “He could just as easily have been knocked over by a bus. Robert is a racer, he loves cars and he lives for nothing but racing. Competing is his essence. At 14 he slept in a kart factory because he loved racing. From the outset it was agreed among us that Robert would do rallies as well as F1. It was vital for him. His strength comes from that passion. I never thought about the risk. Motor sport is dangerous, but he loves it.”

Photo: Darren Heath


I have found the reaction to Robert Kubica’s accident fascinating and enlightening. There is the team principal above, who understood him and attempts here to justify the decision to let him compete elsewhere, then the rival team bosses who are both appalled by the injury and surprised by Renault’s relaxed attitude to Kubica’s extra curricular activities. There are the fans and media, some of whom castigate him for taking unnecessary risks so close to the start of the season and others who simply feel terribly sorry for him and his plight.

To recap, the latest bulletins from the doctors suggest a horrendous injury to his right arm which caused him to lose a lot of blood and despite some heroics by surgeons, the experts in the field to whom I’ve spoken suggest he may never regain fine motor function in that hand and if so his F1 career is unlikely to continue. Of course there are always miracle comebacks, but that is what will be required here for him to race an F1 car again. Renault disagree and say the doctors are exaggerating and that he will recover within a year.

Kubica was injured in a rally car, when a pole supporting an armco barrier, appears to have pierced the floor of the Skoda he was driving and caused the injury. A freak accident, like the one Frank Williams suffered on the road. A few years ago Kubica walked away from an accident in Montreal which was many times worse in terms of impact energy, but F1 cars are built much more strongly than rally cars.

So why did he do it? Why did he take the risk of losing everything just to satisfy some urge to drive fast? And will this put an end to drivers doing anything but the most safe hobbies in future?

I grew up with a father who was a racing driver. He raced for Team Lotus in the 1960s. If you’ve not lived with it, it’s hard to explain the ‘daredevil gene’ racers have, which forces them to race. It’s a restlessness, a need to challenge oneself. At the margin it’s almost a kind of rage.

I don’t have it, I recognised that early on, but throughout 22 years working in F1 I’ve seen it countless times in the eyes of the racers I’ve encountered. Why else did Valentino Rossi and Kimi Raikkonen do rallies while holding down major roles with leading teams? Why did Jim Clark or Stirling Moss drive every kind of car they could get their hands on?

Juan Manuel Fangio once said, “There are those who keep out of mischief, and there are the adventurers. We racing drivers are adventurers; the more difficult something is, the greater the attraction that comes from it.”

This is the best quote I’ve ever come across to explain why racers race and it also why we love them for it. Nowadays F1 cars are still challenging to drive on the limit, but they are so safe that drivers have become quite matter of fact about the risk in their job.

1970s F1 driver Patrick Depailler used to enjoy hang gliding in his spare time. He had a bad accident and was still recovering from it when he was killed in F1 testing in 1980. No-one would allow an F1 driver today to go hang gliding, but the question is, in this age of ultra professionalism, should drivers be forced to avoid all dangerous sports in their spare time? I think they might after this and a little bit more of that racer spirit will be lost.

This looked set to be a breakthrough year for Renault after two years of struggle. Team owner Gerard Lopez said last summer that he wanted to build the team around Kubica, so should Renault have stopped him taking part in the meaningless rally in Italy which has now put the team’s whole season in jeopardy? Who is going to score 150 plus points for them?

Other team principals I’ve spoken to today say that their drivers would not be able to take part in such activities. Insurance is a big factor. To insure an F1 driver for F1 driving is actually quite cheap now, because the cars are so safe. A team will typically insure a driver against being unavailable to them. So if a driver is unavailable, the insurance company will pay out for his replacement. They may also pay out for his salary.

The driver, on the other hand, will typically insure himself against injury and loss of earnings. The premiums rise significantly the more they take part in dangerous side sports like rallying. Kubica’s manager Daniel Morrelli is a very precise, careful individual and he will no doubt have taken care to ensure that his client was correctly insured.

Bruno Senna is reserve driver and if he has brought money to the team, as has been suggested, that may come with a clause which gives him the drive da facto. If not, Renault may look to someone like Nico Hulkenberg, who will have a clause in his Force India reserve driver contract releasing him if a race seat comes up elsewhere. That is standard. It may be Nick Heidfeld who gets yet another chance.

But one thing’s for sure, Renault will have to look to someone else to drive for them this year.

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1

Replacement for Kubica? Raikkonen…simple. All the others will waste the car’s potential

2

I enjoyed the article James. Racers, are part of a different breed in my view.

3

Don’t know if this has already been shown on JAF1 Blog…. but how fortunate is Robert to ‘only’ have the injuries he has sustained, this could have been so much worse….

http://forums.overclockers.co.uk/showpost.php?p=18408011&postcount=130

4

Have to say that I read all the comments saying things like ‘we don’t spend enough time talking about what a special breed racers are’ etc… And it makes me chuckle.

That’s all we do. That’s all we say.

It’s practically required that you write it.

Heaven forbid you say “a race car driver is a great athlete, who is dedicated and in possession of natural talent, and follows his heart, BUT UNDERNEATH IT ALL MAY SUFFER FROM IRRATIONAL BITS OF EGOTISM AND OVER-CONFIDENCE THAT CAN EITHER HELP OR HURT HIM IN HIS JOB – like any other ordinary human being”.

Kubica took more risks that Hamilton because that is who he is as a human. Not because he is a race car driver.

5

The reason we feel the need to comment on how special racers are as human beings is because as people we tend to take the nature of the work lightly. I think if you were ever to be exposed to the F1 driver’s world you would understand where these type of comments come from, you would better understand why most of them are motivated to take part in such dangereous hobbies. I really think that it is something worth commenting on because not most people are like F1 drivers, they are a very rare type of breed .I dont think anyone on this site is compelled to say but it is a fact, not most people can call themselves F1 drivers.

6

I havn’t had the chance to go through all the above comments, but I wonder how much effect the NO testing rule has had in this instance. MAYBE RK wouldnt be driving a rally car if he was testing as much as F1 drivers want to. Even though I agree with the no-testing rule, I wonder how many other drivers will need to sharper their skills elsewere and now will most likely not be allowed to by their teams.

7

Interesting thought, but if Kubica wanted to go Rallying he would have gone even if there were more testing. I think Kubica is driving a WRC car because its exciting and fun. In the January 2011 (number 179 page 66) edition of F1 Racing he said “I don’t think that rallying can improve my performance in F1, but it doese make you become more of a complete driver. Its absolutly something that I enjoy and lately the pace has been good.”

8

The best formula One drivers are born daredevils and will die daredevils.

9

Now seeing reports Renault are also “considering” Liuzzi. So, Senna, Heidfeld, Liuzzi?

I think this is dis-information. If they seriously think they have a contender in this season’s car, they can only go for Heidfeld. Anyone else is just giving it up.

10

A F1 career is about 10 years, there’s plenty of time to do other high risk sports after retiring. Sitting out a season because of tennis injury or whatever isn’t worth it. I prefer drivers who are dedicated enough to reserve all the balls they have for the race weekends.

11

I dont see the point in Renault offering a timeframe for recovery at this stage. Its way too early to tell what the extent of the damage is and how long it will take to heal. I hope he can race in F1 and the damage is not career threatening.

Interesting point on Michael Schumacher. After all he has achieved he should be sitting on the couch getting fat and spending his time with his family. Its just not in his genetic makeup to do that. Ive often heard ex F1 drivers comment on how difficult it is to step away from F1 i guess for Michael he felt he couldnt stay away more than 3 years.

I dont personally have an issue with drivers doing other things before a season, i know Kimi and Heikki do those skimobile races in Finland and Webber and Button do a lot of biking etc. Accidents happen and Robert was really unfortunate to have a bad one.

12

Very glad that Robert survived this crash, by the looks of it, it had the potential to be fatal. It is quite a shame, as 2011 was looking to be a very good year for him, perhaps it will be in another way.

I don’t think its out of line for Eric to be optimistic about Kubica’s return to racing. If he were saying words to the effect that Kubica’s season/carrer is over everyone would be squealing about it being premature and bad form.

Given the level of physical conditioning, and the attentiion given to a Formula One driver’s overall medical condition, Kubica won’t be coming back any earlier than he is able. This won’t be a repeat of what happened to Nikki Lauda.

Though I think Senna and Hulkenberg have considerable talent, and I’d like to see them get a seat with a top team, I’m not sure about the wisdom of having two sophomore drivers working side by side. STR tried this a few times and it didn’t work out so well for them. Though Heitfeld is a bit past his prime he’s consistent and experienced and would be a good match up for Petrov. Liuzzi is experienced too, but I don’t think he’s as good or as consistent as Nick. Given the bad blood that happemed last year I don’t think Raikonnen is in the picture at all.

I’d guess at this point that they’ll keep their options open and try each of their reserve drivers out to see which one performs best and adapts the most quickly.

Again, best wishes to Robert, get well soon.

13

Hi James,

It will be a real shame for F1 world and fans to lose genius like Kubica. With the recent advancements of stem cell technologies, doctors may have a few more options later to restore motor neuron functionality or tissue regeneration in his arm.

As for replacement driver, you did not mention Kimi at all. Shall I take it as 100% no?

15

Excellent insight James.

I think you have hit the mark when you said – “It’s a restlessness, a need to challenge oneself. At the margin it’s almost a kind of rage.”

God forbid, but imagine the uproar in Abu Dhabi if Luizzi had NOT missed Schumi’s helmet in the second corner.

Everyone would be saying why did he ever leave his million dollar sofa.

Its the rush, it is how they are built, and it is precisely why only they can do what a f1 driver needs to do inside these cars.

Finally, I think one must compliment the Renault boss for his attitude. Quite refreshing in the days of Corporate speak.

Let us all hope for a complete recovery.

16

Today on the New York Times website, on the Wheels column in the Automobile section, is a photo of the wrecked car taken from the rear. It is quite startling…have a look.

17

James,

If Kubica doesn’t fully regain fine motor functions in his hand is there any kind of modifications which could be made to his car to allow him to carry on racing (similar to what we have seen in the past with A.Zanardi albeit with different injuries was able to return to racing)

or will even steering an F1 car at high speed/g force through corners remain difficult

18

Racers are racers and love the exhilaration of speed. Perhaps this is one of the lesser considered effects of the restrictions of testing in F1. If drivers had more car time, then perhaps those who love competing and driving fast machines would not do other things to satisfy their passion. I admire Renault for supporting RK in his desire to compete and think both should be applauded. It is a shame that this accident has happened, but, as always, we should never forget, motor racing in all its forms is dangerous. I hope we get a return to more on track testing and also hope that racers continue to race…

Biggest hope of all though is for a safe and speedy FULL recovery for RK; my thoughts are with him!

19

James

Off topic but I’d be very interested to read a detailed technical article explaining the differences between a push rod and pull rod suspension. And why a number of the teams have opted for a pull rod suspension this year.

20

Great article again ! Your blog is by far the best source of info on F1 related themes.

I understand James that your opinion on Kubica’s chances of return to F1 are based on expert opinion. However, I have read other specialists opinions ( surgergeons who have operated with success completely deatached hands and other body parts) that it far too early to make such definitive statements. A lot depends on the patient himself. Who he is, an athlete or an average Joe. His attitude, body-mind connection can make a great difference in prognosis. I personally do feel that Robert will race in F1 again. I am also very impressed by the reaction from the F1 world. Alonso has spent hours in the clinic during Robert OP ( so much for the “No friends in F1 theory”. Good uncle Briatore has visited him and gave him hope. Lauda supports him ( laudly). So many voices of encouragement, it is really touching. And two more points: I would not rush to commending Robert’s replacement yet. He is still in intesive care. Second : where are the words of wisdom from Mr. Ecclestone ?

21

Thank you James for an excellent article, we often overlook the type of people F1 drivers are, the nature of their work. It takes a certain type of individual to be in F1, some people just see F1 drivers as speed junkies but the reality is I believe there is a whole lot more to it. F1 is a very dangerous sport, yes the cars have become very safe to drive compared to the previous years but there is still an element of danger and yet the drivers are able to go on racing year after year. One cannot call what happened to Robert reckless or careless, it is part of his nature to participate in those kinds of hobbies, these guys enjoy being on the limit, competing in these kinds of sport. As for whether he will be able to race again I am sure he will have a speedy recovery and he will carry on racing he is an F1 driver afterall, besides the hand I would imagine the guy is still fit.

22

Anyone who has ever taken a car out on a track and driven it in anger (even at something as insignificant as a local track day) will realize why professional drivers take the risk.

I know that in my life, getting back on the track has been an almost all-consuming passion…all other hobbies I had before my first track day are distant memories.

If I were rich, young and single, I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing with my spare time than being out on a race track somewhere, pushing myself and the car.

23

Nick Heidfeld.

24

To the rhythm of “Duck Sauce – Barbra Streisand”? 😉

Yeah, he’s probably the best choice. Kimi is unreachable I think.

25

Ha! Yes. I felt it was important to get straight to the point!

26

Its such a huge shame that RK has suffered this accident. That said, I think its refreshing that Renault were happy for him to race in the Rally. Had they stopped him from taking additional risks, maybe that would have resulted in him being less fulfilled as a person, and therefore a little slower in F1?

I really hope he makes a full recovery and is able to race in F1 again, but my interpretation of the tone of the articles on JAonF1 and the media in general is that this is 50/50 at best. Lets hope he gets lucky, and that the miracle happens.

27

As Sammy mentioned in his post, even karting is dangerous. I compete in KF2, I heard someone’s bone came out of his racing suit when he had the accident.

And I just read the news of the great blues player, Gary Moore who just passed away.

The point is that anything can happen so why would you prevent racers from racing.

And Kimi has been doing it for a while, nothing happened to him.

28
Just A Bloke (Martin)

Some of the comments talk about building a team around one individual. On a wider note James do you have any insight about how the teams manage risk within their own operations, for example having key members of the design team on different planes or in different cars? Stopping senior designers racing historic cars (Red Bull)……

The organisation I work for has identified driving as the highest risk activity our staff routinely do….

And we work offshore, in the nuclear sector,on process plants and on the rail infrastructure.

29

It often astounds me just how much of the F1 fraternity – and their cars – can often be found travelling on the same plane.

It isn’t really a surprise – in the cost-cutting era, many teams will lump a lot of staff on an Easyjet flight.

And of course, in the fly-away series, the cars are toted around on a Bernie-organised jumbo.

In either case, a single accident is going to have a profound effect.

30

Not a great deal of that is done, as far as I can tell..

31

“Not for one second,” replied Boullier, “He could just as easily have been knocked over by a bus.”

I don’t really buy this argument from Boullier. It’s about the risk element involved. Yes, he could have been knocked over by a bus, but by going rallying surely you are increasing the chance of injury when comparing it to the chances of being run over by a bus. So making comments like this for me disregard the degree of risk involved in an activity.

Having said that, I should be clear that I totally support Kubica doing what he did. He loves doing it, so let him do it. I go bungee jumping because I love it.

32
Shankar Arumugham

Kubica is able to move his fingers.

http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/07022011/58/kubica-moving-fingers.html

That is good news!

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