Circuit design has a major influence on the number and severity of accidents, hence venues wishing to stage a Grand Prix must meet very high track safety requirements, designed to avoid or minimise impacts in the event of a car leaving the road.
Run-off zones are carefully placed around the circuit. These are empty spaces directly beside the actual track, designed to passively or actively decelerate an out-of-control car, and prevent a collision with track walls or barriers. During the past year an increasing number of asphalted spaces have been introduced at various circuits as drivers have a better chance of regaining control of their vehicle. Previously, gravel traps were more common.
Although gravel has a decelerating effect the chances of controlling the car are fairly low and the danger of getting stuck is rather high. However, gravel traps still have their place on certain corners. The traps are normally about 25 centimetres deep and filled with spherical gravel stones of between 5 and 16 millimetres diameter. The stones are designed to generate as much frictional resistance as possible - like sand scattered on an icy pavement - and so reduce the speed of a skidding car quickly and effectively.
If a car gets stuck in a gravel trap in a potentially dangerous position, marshals are allowed to push it back on to the track provided that it is still in running condition. Just such an incident helped Michael Schumacher to the 2003 drivers’ title. He finished fifth at the Nurburgring that year after being assisted from the gravel, thus gathering four valuable points. He finished the season just two points ahead of the runner-up.
In the event of an accident, it is usually track marshals who are first on the scene. On all FIA-approved circuits a marshal and a fire extinguisher must be posted along both sides of the track every 300 metres.
It is not just on the circuit that safety regulations apply. In the pit lane drivers must adhere to a strictly enforced speed limit - normally 60 km/h during free practice and 100 km/h during qualifying and the race. Drivers are fined during practice and qualifying if they break the limit, while in the race receive time-consuming drive-through penalties.
Did you know …that the safety of the spectators at Formula One races is provided by approximately 150 security officials, in addition to approximately 130 medics, first aiders and doctors?