In the 21st century Formula One has drawn criticism from some quarters as a result of the lack of contact between cars and the perceived decrease in entertainment as a result. The cars have very strict restrictions placed upon them in modern F1 and some believe that, as the pinnacle of motor racing, F1 should be allowed greater freedom to create faster and more extreme cars. In total, 50 drivers have died driving an F1 car since the sport began at Silverstone back in 1950 with 39 coming in events that were part of the Formula One World Championships. Some undoubtedly awful crashes will miss out on this list by virtue of there being limited surviving footage of the events.
With each decade came increased safety precautions and a drop in the number of deaths. 15 deaths in the 1950’s became 14 in the 1960’s, followed by 12 fatalities in the 1970’s, four in the 1980’s and two in the 1990’s. The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger marked a watershed moment in the history of F1 racing and saw the introduction of a number of security measures introduced to prevent any future incidents. Following the pair's fatalities in 1994, no F1 driver had been killed whilst racing, although in 2013 María de Villota was sadly found dead and her death was attributed to cardiac arrest which was a result of a crash she had over a year earlier in 2012.
As well as the number of fatalities, the amount of contact between cars has decreased dramatically since the 1970’s, which many people consider to be the peak of the sport. As a result, the majority of major crashes happened over 30 years ago. However, with the cars hitting top speeds of up to 180 mph, when contact is made it still tends to end in dramatic fashion. Following Jules Bianchi’s crash in 2014 further efforts were made to increase safety within the sport.
15 15. Robert Kubica, 2007 Canadian Grand Prix
14 14. Jarno Trulli, Silverstone 2004
13 13. Derek Daly, 1980 Monaco Grand Prix
12 12. Mark Webber, 2010 European Grand Prix, Valencia
11 11. Christian Fittipaldi, 1993 Italian Grand Prix
10 10. Alberto Ascari, 1955 Monaco Grand Prix
Alberto Ascari had two major crashes in the year of 1955, the first he escaped with a broken nose but he was not so fortunate four days later when he somersaulted his car twice and was dead within minutes. Ascari’s first accident occurred in Monaco where he spectacularly crashed into the harbour and came close to drowning. His fatal crash came days later at Monza. Exiting a fast left-hander, Ascari skidded out, somersaulting twice and landing on its front.
9 9. Belgian Grand Prix 1998
8 8. Jody Scheckter, 1973 British Grand Prix
7 7. Ayrton Senna, 1994 San Marino Grand Prix
The most famous crash in F1 history is probably that of Ayrton Senna. Regarded by many as the greatest F1 driver of all time, Senna was a true champion. Victorious on the track and loved off it, Senna donated a reported $400 million to charities for children in poverty and left a great legacy when he lost his life at the age of 34. Senna had been heavily involved in the improvement of driver safety following the death of Roland Ratzenberger and had been advised by FIA Medical Chief Sid Watkins to retire from the sport, but he did not.
6 6. Gerhard Berger, 1989 San Marino Grand Prix
5 5. Roger Williamson, 1973 Dutch Grand Prix
The death of Roger Williamson is one of the most tragic in F1 history because it could have easily been prevented. Williamson’s suffered a tire failure and as a result he crashed into the left hand barrier with speed, causing the vehicle to be launched over 275 metres all the way to the opposite side of the track. As his car slid along the ground, the petrol tank ignited leaving Williamson trapped in a ball of flames. The March Engineering works automobile was stuck on its front, leaving Williamson with no way to escape.
4 4. Wolfgang von Trips, 1961 Italian Grand Prix
3 3. Tom Pryce 1977 South African Grand Prix
The death of Tom Pryce and Frederick Jansen van Vuuren is probably the most horrifying sight in F1 history, if such criteria can be measured. Renzo Zorzi pulled over to the side of the track and stopped as he was experiencing difficulties with his car. The car then caught fire and Zorzi eventually disconnected his oxygen pipe and escaped the burning car. Two marshals arrived to try and put out the fire, but were faced with the task of crossing the live track. The first made it across to Zorzi’s car, the second, van Vuuren, did not.
2 2. Niki Lauda, 1976 German Grand Prix
The 1976 Grand Prix in Germany at the Nurburgring witnessed one of the most dramatic crashes in F1 history. Only a week prior to the race Lauda had actually urged his fellow racers to boycott the race due to the weather, but the notion was declined and the race went ahead. The problem was that part of the track was wet and part of it was dry. Lauda was one of the first racers to switch to the slick tires, a decision which gave him the edge in the race but almost cost him his life.
1 1. Gilles Villeneuve, 1982 Belgian Grand Prix
Despite a short career, Villeneuve was one of the most beloved figures within the sport. Renowned for his eccentric and exciting driving style, he never won a World Championship, finishing second in 1979, but did manage to win six races over his six year career. Villeneuve’s crash occurred during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix and is one of the most shocking moments in F1 history.
As Villeneuve came around Butte corner he saw Jochen Mass travelling much slower than himself. Mass tried to move out of the Canadian’s path but was unable to do so, and Villeneuve hit the back of Mass’s car and was propelled into the air. Villeneuve’s Ferrari traveled over 100 metres in the air before crashing to the ground. As the nose of his Ferrari struck the ground, Villeneuve was jettisoned from the vehicle and thrown a further 50 metres forward into the catch fence of the track, whilst the car largely disintegrated upon impact. Villeneuve had a fatal neck fracture and was not breathing, he was kept alive on life support until later that day when he died.
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