5 of the most tragic deaths in motorsport

Let's remember these brave men this All Souls' Day
Nov 1, 2011

The past couple of weeks saw two accidents in two different motorsport fields that claimed the lives of Dan Wheldon in the IndyCar Series and Marco Simoncelli in the MotoGP. To honor the demise of these two talented men on All Souls' Day, we look back at five other tragic accidents that took the lives of some of the most remarkable men in motorsport.

1. Ayrton Senna. Senna's death was undoubtedly the most tragic incident Formula 1 has ever seen as it involved the sport's most dominant driver of his time. With rival Alain Prost retiring from the sport at the end of the 1993 season, the dominant Williams-Renault outfit was left with a vacant seat that Senna was happy to occupy. Eager to score points in the first two races of the season saw Senna start on pole only to retire from competition. The Brazilian dominated the field soon after the race started but on the sixth lap, Senna in his FW16 left the track at the high-speed Tamburello corner and struck the retaining wall at 217kph. Though the reason for the crash may never truly be known, Senna's death was a loss that was felt beyond Formula 1.

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2. Gilles Villeneuve. While Villeneuve's son, Jacques, was more successful than his father in Formula 1 by becoming the world champion in the 1997 season, it was the father who made an indelible mark in the sport both for being such a well-liked character and for his outright speed. The elder Villeneuve lost his life at the qualifying session of the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix when his Ferrari 126 C struck the back of Jochen Mass's March 821 sending him airborne for around 100 meters before the car crashed back to the ground and did a somersault along the edge of the track before Villeneuve, who was still strapped to his seat minus his helmet, was thrown from the car and across the track into the fence on the Terlamenbocht corner.

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3. Roger Williamson. Williamson was a rookie with March Racing Team in the 1973 season and was only on his second race in the Dutch Grand Prix when, on the eighth lap, a suspected tire failure caused his car March 731 to suddenly flip and crash against the barriers. The impact of the crash caused the car's fuel tank to rupture and fire eventually engulfed the car. Fellow competitor David Purley of LEC Refrigeration Racing saw Williamson's car on fire, stopped his car by the side of the track and tried to rescue Williamson. At that time, track side marshals didn't wear flame retardant overalls, leaving them unable to help Purley in rescuing Williamson. It took the firetruck eight minutes to reach the crash. By the time it arrived, Williamson had died of asphyxiation.

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