I am interested in many forms of auto racing including Dirt Late Models and Modifieds, Sprint Cars, asphalt anything-including Cup sometimes-road racing, and yes, Formula 1. It was with great interest that I watched Ferrari driver Felipe Massa get hit in the head by a spring that fell out of a competitor's car during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. He was traveling at 150-plus mph and the spring smacked him in the left temple area with the helmet taking the blunt force of the impact.
For the more curious of you that might ask, "How in the heck could a spring fall out of the car?" here are the details. Some F1 cars use a fifth spring, yeah like a Dirt Late Model, but different. It's located between the rockers in the rear to support the car at high speeds where the aero downforce is great and the normal suspension springs are too soft to hold the car up off the track. When the car slows for the turns, the fifth spring is released and loose, letting the normal suspension springs do their job. The mounts broke allowing the spring to come loose and ultimately fall out onto the track. Hindsight dictates that this extra spring should have been tethered, and most assuredly is now.
I often speak about spending the money that it takes to be as safe as possible and I get letters telling me that in the lower forms of circle track racing that is not practical. I say it's not an intelligent choice to race without proper safety equipment. Hey, it's your head and body. Who am I to tell you what to do? I can only suggest. People are told not to drink and drive, drive motorcycles without a helmet, cross the desert, or whatever and people still do those things and they sometimes end up dead.
In Massa's case, we see where the photos show his helmet is one of the expensive carbon-fiber types of the highest quality, not a big surprise for an F1 driver. But we do know that the material is much stronger than say fiberglass, which most helmet shells are made of. If he had been wearing a fiberglass helmet, we could conclude that there might be one less F1 driver around. The spring would have most likely taken the left side of his head off. But the helmet did its job, deflected the spring and he was left with skull fractures, a concussion, and is, for the most part, OK.
When you're deciding whether to buy a firesuit or helmet or whatever, get the one with the highest rating that makes sense for your type of racing. You'll probably never need it, granted. But if you do, that extra money will become insignificant to you. Your life insurance company will be very happy too.
These things come along all too suddenly and without warning. Crashes happen and freak occurrences, well, occur. If you would have asked Massa what the chances were to be hit in the head by a flying spring were in the days prior to the event, you know he would say, one in a million. Well, he "won" the bad luck lottery that day and the high price of the carbon-fiber helmet was a small price to pay.
The one thing I ask is this. I understand if you are a risk taker, it's your life. But don't write to me and tell me you had to stop racing because you blew your engine and the money you could have used to replace it went to buying quality safety gear. Yes, I got a letter like that recently, I don't make this stuff up. Racing is like everything else in life, if you can't afford it, do something else. I think sky diving is much less expensive and you won't catch on fire or get hit in the head by a flying spring, I hope.
If you have comments or questions about this or anything racing related, send them to my email address: Bob.Bolles@sorc.com, or mail can be sent to Circle Track, Senior Tech Editor, 9036 Brittany Way, Tampa, FL 33619.