Deaths in Formula One (2024)

Deaths in Formula One (1)

Cars are strewn over the track after a mass pile-up at Monza in 1978. Although not appearing to suffer life-threatening injuries, Ronnie Peterson died the next day in hospital ©


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From the first days of motor racing, drivers have lived close to the edge. Thanks to marked improvements in safety standards, the number seriously injured and killed competing in the sport has significantly reduced. The last death of a driver in an F1 car was Ayrton Senna in 1994, but in the early years the toll was alarming. Here is a list of all those who have died racing in Formula One, not including officials and spectators. Between 1950 and 1961 the Indianapolis 500 was considered part of the Formula One championship, even though few European drivers made the trip over to America to compete. Seven of the first 11 fatalities occurred at the circuit.

Chet Miller Indianapolis 1953
Fifty-year-old Miller was the oldest driver on the track when he lost control of his Novi Special and piled into a concrete wall at over 100mph during practice. Shortly after the finish Carl Scarborough collapsed and died from heat exhaustion.

Onofre Marimón Germany 1954
Marimón failed to negotiate a sharp downhill turn at the Nurburgring during qualifying and his car hit a ditch, struck a tree and then rolled a number of times before coming to rest upside down. He was given the last rites at the scene and died soon after.

Manny Ayulo Indianapolis 1955
Practising for the race, it is believed his steering broke and he smashed into a concrete wall. He died from his injuries the following day.

Bill Vukovich Indianapolis 1955
The winner of the previous two Indy 500s, Vukovich was leading when he failed to avoid a crash ahead of him and his car was sent over the impact wall, landing nose first and then bursting into flames. He was killed instantly by a broken neck.

Keith Andrews Indianapolis 1957
Died from a broken neck while practising for the race when his car hit a wall at 136mph.

Pat O'Connor Indianapolis 1958
O'Connor was killed when his car flipped and caught fire as a result of a 15-car pile-up on the first lap of the race. There were eerie similarities with Vukovich's death three years earlier. Both drove blue No. 4 cars that started from fifth on the grid. Both climbed another car and burned.

Luigi Musso France 1958
lying in second place, he lost control of his Ferrari on a sweeping turn, hit a ditch and overturned at around 150mph. He was airlifted to hospital - the circuit at Reims was one of the first to have a helicopter on site - where he died soon after.

Peter Collins Germany 1958
One race later and Ferrari suffered a second blow when Collins, who was lying third in the drivers' championship, lost control while battling for the lead and his car careered into fencing. Collins was thrown out of the co*ckpit and hit a lone tree, dying later that day from a fractured skull.

Stuart Lewis-Evans Morocco 1958
Lewis-Evans' Vanwall engine seized and sent him crashing into barriers at high speed, his car bursting into flames. He was airlifted back to England on team boss Tony Vandervell's private plane but died in hospital of burns six days later. Despite winning the inaugural constructors' championship, Vandervell was so distraught he withdrew from racing, as, for a time, did Lewis-Evans' manager Bernie Ecclestone.

Jerry Unser Indianapolis 1959
Unser, who had been involved in the 15-car pile-up a year earlier, died when he lost control during a practice session, his car hitting a wall and then somersaulting down the track before exploding. He died of burns a fortnight later. The accident led to fire-resistant driving suits becoming mandatory.

Bob Cortner Indianapolis 1959
A veteran of midget racing, on only his second day of Indy racing his car was caught by a gust of wind and crashed. Cortner died of head injuries later in the day.

Harry Schell Great Britain 1960
Died practising for a non-championship event at Silverstone when his Cooper skidded in the wet and crashed into a brick wall which collapsed on top of him.

Chris Bristow Belgium 1960
A gruesome weekend at Spa started with serious crashes during practice (Stirling Moss sustaining broken legs in one). On the 20th lap of the race itself Bristow made an unforced error and was decapitated by a wire fence as his Cooper somersaulted. At 22 he remains the youngest driver to die in a championship race.

Alan Stacey Belgium 1960
Two laps later and Stacey died when his car crashed and caught fire. Some spectators, as well as his own mechanics, believed he was struck by a bird, knocking him unconscious seconds before the accident.

Wolfgang von Trips Italy 1961
von Trips, who had crashed at Monza in 1956 and 1958, went there needing third place to win the drivers' championship. But his car collided with Jim Clark's Lotus, lifted into the air and crashed into a barrier. von Trips was thrown from the co*ckpit and killed, along with 14 spectators who were packed just behind a track-side fence.

Ricardo Rodriguez Mexico 1962
Rodriguez had driven the season for Ferrari but the team opted to give the inaugural non-championship Mexican Grand Prix a miss, so, desperate to impress in the city of his birth, he took a drive in a Lotus. He misjudged a corner - witnesses said he was going too fast - his car turned and caught fire. He died en route to hospital. He was 20.

Gary Hocking South Africa 1962
Hocking had retired from motorbike racing earlier in the year after the death of a friend, switching to F1 which he thought would be safer. He died while practising for his debut race when his Lotus hit a ditch and somersaulted.

Carel Godin de Beaufort Germany 1964
He was thrown out of his Porsche when it inexplicably veered off the track and suffered massive head and chest injuries from which he died three days later.

John Taylor Germany 1966
His Brabham collided with Jacky Ickx's Matra on the first lap in heavy rain at the Nurburgring. Taylor was badly burned and died from his injuries five weeks later.

Lorenzo Bandini Monaco 1967
He was second when he lost control at the harbour chicane, his car turning upside down and skidding into straw bales before catching fire. He was pulled clear by marshals but suffered massive burns as well as serious chest injuries and died three days later.

Jo Schlesser France 1968
John Surtees had pronounced Honda's experimental RA302 car unsafe, but undaunted and with help from the company's French division, it was entered in the French Grand Prix and local driver Schlesser was hired to drive it. On the second lap the car slid wide at a corner and crashed into a bank, exploding on impact.

Gerhard Mitter Germany 1969
A relative F1 novice, Mitter was a very successful driver in other fields. He was hired by BMW to test their Formula Two cars and it was driving one of these ahead of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring that he crashed after a major suspension failure.

Piers Courage Netherlands 1970
Killed when he lost control of his car which ran up a grass bank, hit a fence and burst into flames. He was probably dead before then as a wheel came off on the initial impact and flew into the co*ckpit with enough force to remove Courage's helmet.

Jochen Rindt Italy 1970
The only man to win the drivers' championship posthumously, Rindt died during final practice at Monza when his car crashed into perimeter fencing and disintegrated. He had only just started wearing a seat belt and it is believed that as he slid down inside the co*ckpit it cut his throat. He also suffered massive leg injuries. The crash was in exactly the same place that von Trips had died nine years earlier.

Jo Siffert Great Britain 1971
A veteran of 100 Formula One starts, Siffert was killed in a non-championship race at Brands Hatch when the suspension on his BRM snapped causing him to crash. He was unable to get out of the car as it caught fire and died of smoke inhalation. A subsequent investigation revealed none of the track-side extinguishers had been working and the incident led to mandatory in-car extinguishers as well as piped air into the driver's helmet.

Roger Williamson Netherlands 1973
Williamson's car crashed and caught fire after suffering a puncture. As he lay trapped in the overturned and burning vehicle, David Purley stopped his own car and sprinted to help, diving into the flames to try to free Williamson, who was calling out for help. As marshals stood by unable to help because of the heat, Purley ran across the track, grabbed an extinguisher and desperately tried to put out the fire before eventually being dragged away. It took eight minutes for the fire engine to arrive by which time Williamson had died of asphyxiation. Spectators had also tried to clamber to assist Purley only to be driven back by police with dogs. Purley was awarded the George Medal for his actions.

Francois Cevert USA 1973
The hugely talented Cevert's car clipped a kerb during Saturday practice at Watkins Glen and was knocked into the safety barriers, causing it to spin headlong into loose barriers on the other side of the track. He died instantly of massive injuries. His team-mate, mentor and friend Jackie Stewart, who had already won the world title, quit there and then ahead of what would have been his final race.

Peter Revson South Africa 1974
Suspension failure during a practice session led to a massive crash in which Revson was killed. His brother Doug died seven years earlier in a Formula Three accident in Denmark.

Helmuth Koinigg USA 1974
A year after Cevert's death and once again insecure barriers at Watkins Glen were partly to blame as Koinigg missed a turn, ploughed through the safety fence and into a barrier. Instead of it stopping him, his car went under it and he was decapitated.

Mark Donohue Austria 1975
Donohue lost control of his March during a practice session and careered into fencing. A marshal was killed by flying debris but it was thought Donohue was alright. However, he suffered from a worsening headache and the next day went to hospital where he lapsed into a coma and died from a brain haemorrhage. It was believed his head had struck a wooden fence post during the crash.

Tom Pryce South Africa 1977
As two marshals crossed the track to deal with a small fire in a stopped car, four cars, including Pryce's came round the bend. The lead car swerved to avoid the second marshal but Pryce had no chance to avoid hitting him at 170mph. An extinguisher the marshal was carrying was thrown in the air and struck Pryce in the head, partially decapitating him. His car slowly coasted to a stop, eventually careering back onto the track after hitting barriers. The injuries to the marshal were so severe he was only identified when all his colleagues were called together after the race and he was the one missing.

Ronnie Peterson Italy 1978
A mass collision on the first bend of the race at Monza left Peterson with severe leg injuries, although when he was pulled from his blazing car by three other drivers it seemed his injuries were serious but not life-threatening. But as Peterson lay on the tarmac, track officials hampered attempts to get an ambulance to him and it was a quarter of an hour before medical aid arrived. There was more concern for Vittorio Brambilla, who had head injuries, and he was the first to be treated, and fortunately he made a full recovery. At the hospital surgeons, with Peterson's agreement, operated that night to stabilise ten fractures in his legs. However, during the night bone marrow went into his bloodstream through the fractures leading to him suffering full renal failure. He died the next morning.

Gilles Villeneuve Belgium 1982
At the end of qualifying, Villeneuve's car ploughed into the back of the slower-moving Jochen Mass and was catapulted into the air at around 140mph before ploughing into the ground and disintegrating as it spun to a stop. He was found in the catch fence, still strapped to his seat but without his helmet. He suffered a fatal fracture of the neck.

Riccardo Paletti Canada 1982
In only his second race Paletti crashed at 100mph into the back of Didier Pironi who had stalled on the grid, suffering severe chest injuries. Medical aid was on the scene in seconds but his full fuel tank then ignited, enveloping Paletti in flames (such was the effectiveness of the fire-retardant overalls that he suffered no burns). It took another 25 minutes to cut him out of the wreckage but he died soon after arriving at a nearby hospital.

Roland Ratzenberger San Marino 1994
His front wing broke during qualifying at Imola, causing him to crash into the Villeneuve corner at over 190mph. He died of a basal skull fracture. He had damaged the wing on the previous lap but had decided to continue as he was in the hunt for the final grid spot.

Ayrton Senna San Marino 1994
Twenty-four hours later, Senna died when his car failed to negotiate a sharp corner and slammed into a concrete wall at around 135mph. He died from severe head injuries. As officials examined the wreckage they found a furled Austrian flag which, had he won, Senna would have raise in honour of Ratzenberger. The two crashes led to a major overhaul of safety in the sport.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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