The tragic death of Australian cricket Phil Hughes yesterday brought sharply to mind the fact that many sports involving large numbers of people in an enclosed area come with an element of risk. I adore cricket, albeit only as an amateur enthusiast, but I am told it was a freak accident that claimed his life and that neither the man who bowled the ball nor the helmet that didn’t protect him can be blamed in any way. Yet within two hours of his passing, British journalists were already hounding dazed Australian cricketers still reeling from their loss to say what could be done to ensure such an accident never occurs again.
“Life is about risk management from the moment we wake in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. We take them willingly because a risk-free life is not living, but mere existence”
Over the years motor sport has been cursed by more tragedies than most but, in recent times, safety standards have improved beyond recognition. I remember in a race at Spa a few years back coming across a scene of devastation, as if a light aircraft had come down. It took my entire stint to clear up the mess at the exit of Blanchimont but when the driver was pulled – through the windscreen aperture – of the rolled up ball of metal that had until recently been a Lotus Cortina, it transpired he had suffered no serious injury at all. His car might have been old, but his seat, his belts, his helmet and his roll cage were not, and allowed him to walk away from an accident that may have proven unsurvivable when the car was new.
But still there are tragedies that claim drivers’ lives, or leave them incapacitated and it would be idiotic to pretend otherwise. And when it happens, as it has in British historic racing both this year and last, all of us lucky enough to indulge in the world’s greatest pastime pause to consider whether it is sensible to continue.
For me it is very simple. Life is about risk management from the moment we wake in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. We all know the risks we take having a shower, crossing the road, driving to work, eating in a restaurant and so on, and we take them willingly because a risk-free life is not living, but mere existence.
“I adore racing old cars on old circuits and sufficiently so to accept whatever level of foreseeable danger that entails”
All who race evaluate the risk in exactly the same way. In fact I’d go further: when I race at Goodwood, there is an additional frisson of excitement borne from considering the consequences of getting it wrong. To me it adds to the challenge and therefore, yes, the enjoyment. Here precision and finesse are rewarded, which to me is what driving a racing car is all about, while the reckless, sloppy driving you might so easily get away with elsewhere is punished without mercy.
And I love the beauty of an unmolested circuit: call me a sentimental old fool, but to me driving a gorgeous racing car into the setting sun at Goodwood is as good as it gets with a steering wheel in your hand.
I am no daredevil. I loathe horror films, rollercoasters and anything else designed primarily to induce fear. But I adore racing old cars on old circuits and sufficiently so to accept whatever level of foreseeable danger that entails. And while those risks are known and involve participants alone and never members of public, I think all those who take them, whether we be drivers, riders, anglers or cricketers, should be left free to do so.