Sport is inherently risky to an extent, but with its huge forces, high speeds and very fine margins, F1 is more dangerous than most despite decades of safety measures in place.
The last F1 death was in 2014, and hopefully it will remain like that forever. The cars get safer every single year, and Romain Grosjean surviving 28 seconds inside an inferno at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix shows how far F1’s come.
But it’s not been an easy road and F1 has a dark history of driver fatalities that it’s impossible to forget.
When was the last death on an F1 weekend?
Charles Leclerc’s maiden F1 win, at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, was particularly poignant.
As Leclerc took the chequered flag less than a second ahead of Lewis Hamilton, he dedicated the win to his long-time friend Anthoine Hubert, who’d passed away earlier that day in the F2 sprint race.
Hubert had starred as a rookie that season and as part of the Renault driver academy, many expected him to have a future in F1.
However, that all changed when he was involved in a multi-car crash at Eau Rouge that disintegrated his Dallara chassis, and Hubert was pronounced dead from his injuries 90 minutes later.
Following his death, F2 created the Anthoine Hubert Award which is given to the best rookie driver every year.
How many F1 drivers have died?
Hopefully this is an answer that never needs to be changed.
Officially, 52 drivers have died at Formula 1 events. Seven of these were in the Indy 500 which was an F1 World Championship event from 1950-60, another seven were during tests and 12 were in non-championship events.
These encompass a range of races, such 1960 BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, which claimed the life of Harry Brook as he raced against a grid including Jack Brabham, Graham and Phil Hill, John Surtees, Denny Hulme and Stirling Moss. But it also counts historic F1 series like the Czech Superprix.
Of the 32 drivers who’ve died during world championship F1 race weekends, Ayrton Senna was the most shocking. Senna’s death when a suspension arm struck his head at Imola in 1994 stunned the sporting world, and the Brazilian government declared three days of national mourning.
It led to a raft of safety measures including reducing how much of a drivers’ body was vulnerable sticking out of the cockpit, and many thought it’d be the last ever until 2014.
But Senna’s not the only champion to die in an F1 car, Jochen Rindt became the sport’s only posthumous world champion after he was killed at Monza in 1970.
Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve never won a championship but were absolute superstars when they passed away in 1978 and 1982, and it’s hard to believe either of them wouldn’t have gone on to reach the very peak of F1.
Arguably the most significant fatality in F1 history didn’t happen on an F1 weekend. Jim Clark’s death at Hockenheim in a 1968 Formula 2 race finally pushed the sport to begin implementing meaningful safety measures.
Before that, there was a mindset of ‘it won’t happen to me’ from F1 drivers but when Clark – regarded by many of his peers as the greatest to ever do it – died it hit home that it could happen to anyone.
Led by the likes of Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx, Clark’s death provided the catalyst for change.
Who was the last F1 driver to die?
Jules Bianchi passed away in Nice on the 17th July 2015, from injuries sustained in Japan nine months earlier.
A clear star of the future, Ferrari junior – and godfather to Leclerc – Bianchi had impressed in two seasons at Marussia including scoring the team’s first points at the Monaco Grand Prix earlier in the 2014.
He looked set for a career racing for the prancing horse, but at a sodden Japanese Grand Prix he lost control of his car and hit a crane that was collecting Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber.
His car slid under the main body of the crane with its roll bar crushed – this was in the days before the halo. Later calculations estimated a peak force of 254G and Andy Mellor, Vice President of the FIA Safety Commission, said the impact was the equivalent of “dropping a car 48 metres (157 ft) to the ground without a crumple zone”.
After the race was halted, Bianchi had to be transferred to the nearest hospital by road under police escort as the heavy rain prevented the helicopter from flying him there.
CT scans showed Bianchi had suffered a ‘severe head injury’ and it was announced he was in a critical but stable condition. He was placed in a medically induced coma and though he was taken out of this, he eventually succumbed to his injuries and passed away nine months later.
A statement from his family read: “It is with deep sadness that the parents of Jules Bianchi, Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie, wish to make it known that Jules passed away last night at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Nice.
“Jules fought to the end, as he has always done, but yesterday his battle ended. We feel an immense and indescribable pain.”
A host of F1 drivers past and present attended his funeral, and Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne were among his pallbearers.
After the crash, the halo was introduced to protect the cockpit area and it’s already saved the lives of many drivers both in F1 and in other series.