“Motorsport can be dangerous” is written at every track that’s ever been built. Sometimes this danger is joked about among racers and paddock folks only to make it merely digestible, but it’s also a deadly serious fact. Lives are in danger every time drivers go racing and they—and we—love the sport in spite of that, not because of it. Today, after several drivers in the W Series were involved in a massive crash at Spa’s Eau Rouge, serves as another reminder of this.
Eau Rouge-Raidillon is one of the most dramatic corners in the world. Sweeping sharply upwards through Eau Rouge, it twists to the right and into a narrower left turn of Raidillon before drivers head onto the Kemmel Straight. It’s flat out in almost any series now, with drivers pushing as hard as they can to get a good run down the long straightaway. Also, it’s where we’ve seen way too many horrifying crashes recently—including two just this year.
Today’s W Series crash is the latest and it was bad. In wet conditions, the regional Formula 3-spec cars aquaplaned up the hill of Eau Rouge, Sarah Moore and Fabienne Wohlwend hitting the barriers backward before more cars joined them. Belen Garcia’s car pushed Wohlwend’s aside, before Beitske Visser’s car was flung airborne and over the tire barrier, colliding with Moore and Ayla Agren’s car used Garcia’s as a barrier.
Finally, Abbie Eaton—unable to decelerate and also aquaplaning—came in at huge speed, sending Visser’s car airborne again over Moore’s car and into the middle of the track, where it rolled to a stop, upside down. It is unquestionable that Visser and Moore’s lives were saved by the halo on their Tatuus chassis, both their vehicles taking multiple hits to the top of the cockpit.
Miraculously, all the drivers have been confirmed as “ok” by the series. Agren and Visser did not return to the pit lane but other drivers did, with the missing two taken to the on-site medical center and then to a local hospital.
It’s not the first multi-car pile-up this year. One-off Williams F1 driver Jack Aitken was injured in a four-car GT racing crash during the 24-hour race at Spa last month. At the time, multiple drivers, including Aitken himself, called for changes to be made to Eau Rouge-Raidillon to improve safety.
Aitken, like Callum Ilott, was driving in Formula 2 in 2019 when the crash that killed Anthoine Hubert and severely injured Juan-Manuel Correa took place at the corner. Ilott has since become a strong advocate for change to the circuit, especially in response to Aitken’s GT crash.
It might seem pretty shocking, then, that F1’s race director Michael Masi dismissed concerns about the corner. He said the FIA has deemed Spa a Grade One circuit—the standard of safety for F1—so there’s no need to make any changes.
Raidillon is so dangerous because of the lack of runoff, with crashing cars bouncing back onto the track after hitting the barriers with violent force. This, of course, puts them in the way of cars coming up behind them at full speed. Despite promises that works will be done to the circuit to improve safety at the corner, Spa now says they won’t be completed until 2022.
Gravel traps would help to stop cars and prevent them from being ricocheted back into an incredibly high-speed part of the circuit.
Endurance racer and IndyCar hopeful Pietro Fittipaldi broke both his legs in a crash at this corner in 2018 during the 6 Hours of Spa in an LMP1 prototype sports car. He was one of many drivers to voice his concerns immediately following the W Series crash.
Juan-Manuel Correa is at Spa to race this weekend. He has three F3 races ahead of him, in what’s likely to be wet-dry conditions; it’s hard to imagine what can be going through his head when his and other drivers’ concerns about the corner have been repeatedly dismissed.
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