Motorsport can be dangerous: time to reconsider pit lane cameramen in F1?

Paul Allen cameraman accidentFrom BBC F1 08/07/13:

Formula 1 must consider introducing measures to protect people working in the pit lane from potential injury, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says.

A television cameraman was injured by a loose wheel from Mark Webber's Red Bull during the German Grand Prix.

"It's a timely reminder that things can go wrong," Horner said.

"Mechanics have to wear safety gear and helmets. Maybe it's time we looked at some of the other people working in the pit lane having some as well."

The man injured was Paul Allen, who works for F1's official television production company, FOM. He was taken to hospital with a broken collarbone and cracked ribs.

Horner said: "It's a horrible feeling because your initial concern is for that individual.

Watching cameraman Paul Allen being nearly flipped into a somersault in the pit lane by Mark Webber’s fly-away wheel makes for horrific viewing. For me, the fact he was looking the other way filming when the wheel hit him simply makes the incident all the more horrific. Still, as nasty as his injuries were, he escaped very lightly when you consider how it could have ended.

Two F1 stewards were killed in 2000 and 2001 respectively by loose wheels escaping through gaps in the trackside fencing when F1 cars crashed (although, granted, the cars in those incidents were at racing speed rather than the mandatory pit land speed limit of 100kmph). Wheel tethers of increased strength and smaller access gaps in trackside fencing were brought in as a response.

Until last month’s freak accident in which a steward was killed after falling under a tractor hoist at the Canadian Grand Prix, there hadn’t been any further steward fatalities.

Reflecting on Allen’s injury at yesterday’s Grand Prix, it occurred to me that the sub three second pit stops we’re now routinely seeing has made life in the pit lane more dangerous than ever.

Prior to 2010, when in-race refuelling was allowed, pit stops were routinely around 8 – 10 seconds – with the refuelling aspect taking far longer than was needed to remove and replace the car’s 4 tyres. This meant the pit crews could complete the tyre change at their relative leisure.

But now that in-race refuelling has been banned, the faster pit stops have resulted in far more cars being released without their wheels correctly secured as pit crews continue push the envelope to service their cars as quickly as possible.

Horner is undoubtedly right: everyone in the pit lane needs protective clothing at the very least. Pit crews are kitted out with body armour, fire proof suits, helmets and visors. The FOM cameramen, by contrast, are wandering around in exactly the same environment clad only in Dr Martin’s, smart trousers and a short sleeved shirt. That’s horrific no matter how you slice it.

But Allen’s accident raises a broader question in my opinion: should cameramen even be in the pit lane wandering around, with 22 F1 cars shooting in and out and drivers and pit crews pumped full of adrenaline?

That sounds to me very much like a recipe for disaster.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised FOM are willing to risk the potential liability by placing cameramen in the line of fire (so to speak) and without any kind of equipment to protect them.

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