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F1 got safer after Senna's death

LONDON -- Jackie Stewart was probably the
only person fretting about thermal underwear at Bahrain's desert
circuit a few weeks back.

"You look at the drivers here and they will all have
short-sleeved thermal (fireproof) underwear and shorts,"
declared the Scot, a tireless campaigner on safety issues as a
three-times Formula One champion.

"Not good. They should have full length thermal underwear
right down to their ankles...I think it should be compulsory for
every driver."

When it comes to Formula One safety, there is always
something to worry about.

Last week's San Marino Grand Prix marked a return, possibly
for the last time, to the Imola circuit where Brazil's
three-times champion Ayrton Senna and Austrian Roland
Ratzenberger died a decade ago.

That weekend was a watershed for the sport, Formula One's
last fatalities turning safety into an absolute priority. Much
has been achieved since then.

"For 10 years we haven't lost a driver," said Stewart. "For
twelve-and-a-half years before that weekend we hadn't lost a
driver. That's pretty impressive. More people die fishing than
die in Formula One cars.

"That doesn't mean to say that tomorrow or the next day we
can't have a terrible accident. But what has been done for
safety is immense."

The tragic weekend of 1994, coupled with Austrian Karl
Wendlinger's serious accident at Monaco a few weeks later, came
as a wake-up call.

The sport's biggest crisis in years prompted immediate
changes, with measures including cars being modified to reduce
downforce and engine sizes cut from three-and-a-half litres to
three.

Tethers were introduced to prevent wheels flying off, crash
tests became far more stringent, and circuits underwent
substantial modifications.

Most recently, drivers have been forced to wear HANS head
and neck restraints to limit their vulnerability in head-on
accidents.

"I think there was a certain amount of complacency by the
time Imola happened but I don't believe that's the case any
longer," International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Max
Mosley told Reuters.

"The real legacy for Formula One from Imola has been the
(FIA) safety commission and the research group," he added. "They
meet regularly and constantly work on safety, trying to update
and upgrade it all the time.

"None of that means that we couldn't have a serious
accident, in fact we've been quite lucky once or twice. But it
reduces the probability.

"It's very, very seldom now that if something is shown to be
safer that we can't get immediate unanimous agreement to bring
it in," said Mosley.

"I think (Imola) was certainly when Formula One woke up to
the idea that safety had to be attacked scientifically and
systematically and on an ongoing basis, just as the performance
of the cars was."

Mosley said making the cars stronger was one thing but it
was equally important to prevent the driver being subjected to
G-forces greater than his body could withstand.

"That means crashes have to be progressive so one's always
looking at better barriers, better ways of absorbing an impact
to the cars, of slowing the cars down between the moment of lost
control and impact if there is one," he said.

"It's now a programme of many measures, each of which
depends on the other."

Senna would probably have survived a similar accident on the
old Imola circuit at the wheel of a modern car, such have been
the advances made, but there will always be an element of luck.

It was former champion Niki Lauda who said at Imola that
"God has had his hand over Formula One for a long time. This
weekend, he took it away".

It could happen again, however many precautions are taken,
and Mosley is particularly concerned at present with indications
that cornering speeds are again rising sharply.

He said the most important thing was to never be in a
situation where you could do something and did not do it.

The Briton cast his mind back to his own days as a Formula
Two racer, recalling his first race at Hockenheim in the 1960s
and how three of the 21 drivers on the starting grid died in the
space of four months.

"It was like being in Vietnam," said Mosley. "And the worst
thing was you knew that it was preventable. It really wouldn't
take that much to see that it didn't happen.

"Things that are nerve-racking to watch, like a trapeze
artist, don't depend on somebody getting killed every now and
then," he added.

"I think one of the great myths is that Formula One is less
interesting because it isn't as dangerous as it was. All the
figures point the other way.

"In the days when it killed at least one person a year, it
had virtually no television coverage...Now it's become much
safer and it's up there with football.

"I think that if a sport starts to kill people, you won't
have the sport for very long."