Grand Prix: The Killer Years BBC 4 27th March


Pole Sitter
Just watched here in the UK on the BBC 4 channel, the summary of the program was:

Jackie Stewart & other drivers look back to the the 60's & 70's, when motor racing was a deadly dangerous sport.

I already knew about a lot of the stories around the likes of Jim Clark, Rindt, Von Trips but it still amazes me how futile it must have felt for the drivers and Jackie Stewart to get the basics in safety sorted.

e.g. Jackie asked for some trees to be removed @ Brands as they were dangerous & the organisers gave him a saw.

Just glad they learned so much then which helps us now:

My apologies if anyone has been hunting through the listings trying to find this. It was on at 2:55 this morning :(
You bastards, you've just made a grown man cry.

Just read up on David Purley :o

He survived an estimated 179.8g when he decelerated from 173 km/h (108 mph) to 0 in a distance of 66 cm (26 inches) after his throttle got stuck wide open and he hit a wall


I'm a bit annoyed with myself for missing this on Sunday. :disappointed:

No doubt it will be repeated at some point, or I suppose I could try to watch on the iPlayer I suppose...
Thats some powerful, harrowing TV.

The sheer desperation of David Purley to get someone to help him was the most heart-rending thing of the whole programme. There's a guy dying in that car, and there are no marshals, no officials, no doctors. Just one mere driver trying to cajole everyone into helping him.


I recommend it to anyone who opposes Safety measures in F1.
David Purley holds the world record (according to Guiness) for the surviving the highest amount of G-Force ever experienced by the Human Body. (I.E. by someone who lived to tell the tale). I read that while they were trying to cut him out of the wreckage, he was still concious and asked his team manager if he thought he could fix the car in time for the race!!!
Thank you for posting this. Not being able to access iPlayer I had to, ahem, use other methods to watch it (if BBC Canada wasn't just gardening, DIY shows and Top Gear I might stump up the subscription, if you are reading this Auntie Beeb!) but what a stunning piece of work.*

I've read and watched a lot of materials related to improvements in motorsport safety and still find myself torn on whether the safety aspect has gone too far. On the one hand Stirling and Tony, on the other Denny and Jackie. Locally, if I want to watch a live race I have Mosport and Tremblant to choose between, although that really isn't a choice; Tremblant wins every time. They get better grids and bigger crowds for any given racing category, simply because the drivers prefer driving it and the spectators prefer watching there. Yes, it is more dangerous as it is fundamentally an older circuit, but everyone knows that. Every motorsport ticket I have ever bought has had some sort of warning about 'yes, you are here for fun, but you might die today' written on it. When I have saved the $5000 I need Tremblant is where I'll be going to get my race licence. The problem is one of degree; where do you draw the line. I personally hate the acres of tarmac that seem to form most run-off areas these days, but apparently they are safer. It does mean that drivers cheat and mistakes aren't punished though, which does take some of the spectacle away. I can see both sides of the argument here and I really don't know what to think.

* Specifically, Tony Brooks in a four-wheel drift around the AVUS banking! Low point of the show... the assertion that Cooper revolutionised F1 "from a small, Surbiton lockup". I know Ewell Road wasn't Maranello, but I think Charlie Cooper might have had more than a few words with you if you had described it as a "lockup" to his face!
Just got round to watching this, I felt it was very unfair on Colin Chapman suggesting that all bad things that happened in F1 were his fault. More drivers have died in F1 Ferrari's than any other car (not a criticism of Ferrari simply a statistical truth) but the program glossed over this fact. Peculiar that they chose to state that in 1976 no driver died - true but more by luck than judgement, I think we all know what happened to Niki Lauda that year and 9 died between 1977 and 1994.

You have to admire the efforts of JYS and others to force the circuit owners to improve things which probably contributed to saving lives more than anything else; that and changes to fuel tanks. That said, even in the late 80's things weren't perfect. How many drivers in the 60's and 70's would have survived this?

I watched this last night. A very good documentary, though as so often with this topic I would have liked to have probed a little deeper into the psychology of the drivers at that time. When you read interviews, some simply say "we didn't think about it", others that "we were all scared, but we never said anything" - leaving JYS as the only one publicly putting his head above the trenches. I'd love to see a televised round-table discussion with four or five drivers from the time to discuss those issues. To what extent was there pressure from team managers and sponsors; how did friends and family feel about it? Were they ever scared behind the wheel? Did driving remain as enjoyable as time went on, or did the attraction fade through the various tragedies? I suppose I just have difficulty in understanding how such senseless waste could be allowed to go on and on for so long - the documentary didn't even mention the Le Mans disaster, which was obviously prior to the period covered, and seems to have had no effect on spectator safety provision whatsoever.

I thought Jacky Ickx' comments were very interesting, and it was good that the programme makers had gone to the trouble of contacting Beltoise and the Spa circuit official for their perspectives.

The pictures told the story though. I hadn't seen the footage of Bandini's fire at Monaco before - that was harrowing. And obviously poor Roger Williamson's accident doesn't get any easier no matter how many times you've seen it.
Finally got around to watching the documentary and agree with all the points posted. Obviously it was a very broad brush over the subject and I think it would have benefited from some greater detail here and there.

One thing's for sure, Colin Chapman didn't come out of it in a very good light.

I'm not sure where JYS get's his statistic of only 1 in 3 drivers surviving a top line motorsport career from?

There is no doubt though that the actions that he started and others followed on with have not only improved F1 beyond all measure but have save life on the roads as well.
Finishing list for JYS's first World Championship race, SA 1965:

Jim Clark - Killed, F2 race
John Surtees - Survived
Graham Hill - Survived, but killed in an air accident later
Mike Spence - Killed, Indy 500 practice
Bruce McLaren - Killed, CanAm testing
Jackie Stewart - Survived
Jo Siffert - Killed, F1 race
Paul Hawkins - Killed, WSC race
Peter de Klerk - Survived, but not an international racer
Tony Maggs - Survived
Frank Gardner - Survived
Sam Tingle - Survived, but again only local racer
David Prophet - Survived, but killed later in a helicopter accident at Silverstone
Lorenzo Bandini - Killed, F1 race
Bob Anderson - Killed, F1 testing
Jo Bonnier - Killed, Le Mans race
Jochen Rindt - Killed, F1 practice
John Love - Survived, but again only a restricted international career
Dan Gurney - Survived

That's quite the sobering list. If you discount the local hotshoes, who were far less exposed to the dangers of racing as they raced on far fewer occasions and mostly against lesser fields, that leaves the score at: Dead 9 - 7 Alive. I haven't looked at any more than just this race, but as one picked almost at random it's quite startling. Not quite JYS's two in three dead but still well over 50%, and two on the vital side were actually eventually killed in air accidents in the line of their business as racing drivers...
Watching now for the third time. That Colin Chapman has much to answer for and Jackie Stewart is a true F1 hero. Love this documentary.
Finally saw this last night - poignant and harrowing.

One snippet that made me wince was when Jochen Rindt requested that his Lotus 49 be transported to Monza, only to be presented with the troublesome 72 for the race weekend and for Chapman to basically browbeat him into driving it. Somehow made the resultant accident even more horrifically pointless, and definitely a case for manslaughter against Chapman.

I can see the same point from Chapman's side too though - he was an engineer first & foremost, and was dedicated to progression and innovation - having developed the 72, it would have been anathema to him to turn back to the 49, just because his driver didn't like his newer car. Tragically, it transpired that Rindt was correct though - one wonders how Chapman was able to live with himself after that weekend.
Reading this month's EVO magazine there is, as there is every month, a snippet from the forum topics on the Reader's Letters page. The topic of discussion was the BBC documentary - "Grand Prix, The Killer Years". Reading through some of the discussion there seemed to be a mixture of opinion as to whether the guys who raced in this era (mainly 60's and 70's) should go down in history as heroes who had balls of steel, risking their lives every other weekend, or whether they were in fact nothing more than reckless selfish idiots for putting themselves and their familes in a position whereby every time they got into a racing car they might not be alive in 2 hours.
To be honest it's not something i've ever really thought about, especially thesedays with F1 being as safe as it has become, largely thanks to people like Jackie Stewart who of course lost many friends during the 'Killer Years' period.
I would interested to hear others' opinions on this. Personally, I think a bit of both sides must apply. To be a racing driver not only takes great courage, but a massive amount of belief in yourself and your own ability as a driver. Not knowing if you'd be coming home after a day's 'work' would surely have played on their minds, but i'm sure as soon as they stepped into the car those thoughts disappeared and were focused solely on the job in hand - winning races. On the other side of the coin, it would be interesting to find out if any of the driver's wives ever asked them to consider quitting during this period, and if not, what their response would have been if they had have been asked to give it up?
Its an age old question Senna and there is no correct answer. i cringe at seeing people injure themselves and it makes me very sad reading/viewing the F1 fatalities, but i also know i get the biggest natural high when i take risks that could do me harm. In fact i would go so far as to say i thrive on it, adrenalin.

There is a great documentary that Clarkson did about ten years ago all about the very same question. He had Damon Hill and othres in it. Its actually a very informative program as far as JC stuff goes....
Many parents tried to put barriers in the way of their offspring forging a career in motor racing, some successfully, some not. Jackie Stewart had to race under a pseudonym in his early days as his elder brother also raced, and his mother was absolutely terrified of them both hurting themselves. For parents it must have been a horrible thing to endure.

As far as wives and girlfriends are concerned, I think by and large they knew what they were getting into. The urge to take risks for the thrill was a part of the driver's personality - as I'm sure it still is today, underneath - and may have been part of the attraction. That's not to say it was an easy thing for them to accept, of course. But who could deny their husband/partner the ability to do the thing they loved the most and forego the fame and fortune that would associate with them, if they were successful? A long marriage may result, perhaps, but one with regrets.
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