Teen’s death raises grim question dividing racing

The death of 19-year-old Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier at Mugello on the weekend has once again raised the tricky question of whether or not it was right to proceed with the Italian Grand Prix.

Cricket faced the same dilemma in 2014, following the horrible accident that resulted in the death of Phillip Hughes at the SCG. The Sheffield Shield matches that were in progress around the country at the time were abandoned, while the start of the Test series against India was delayed by nearly a week.

By contrast, the medical helicopter transporting Dupasquier to hospital had barely left the circuit on Saturday when the MotoGP riders emerged for a practice session. Likewise, the following day, the 19-year-old’s death was announced as the Moto2 riders were on the grid preparing for their race, which went ahead regardless, as did the MotoGP race later in the day, just minutes after the riders had observed a minute’s silence to mark Dupasquier’s passing.

Granted, motorsport is, unfortunately, more accustomed to dealing with death and serious injury than cricket. As the Italian rider Franco Morbidelli noted: “This is not the first time that this happens, it’s not going to be the last.”

But the decision not to cancel the remainder of the weekend at Mugello has divided opinion amongst the riders.

“It’s maybe one of the worst days of my life, I didn’t enjoy anything today,” Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia said after he crashed during Sunday’s race.

“So, for me, I asked to don’t race today because it was not correct for me. Also, I think if it [a fatal crash] happened to a MotoGP rider we wouldn’t race.

“So, I’m not happy about today, I’m not happy about the decision of someone to let us race after news like this. Doesn’t matter if I crashed, I’m just thinking about him [Dupasquier] and his family. We have lost a 19-year-old rider, so this is very difficult to accept and very difficult to accept the decision of someone to let us race.”

KTM rider Danilo Petrucci was disturbed, not just by the decision to race, but to send the riders out for practice just minutes after Dupasquier was taken to hospital.

“Nobody asked or had a meeting to say that ‘one of us is not with us anymore, let’s say, can we talk a bit if it is correct to do the minute [of silence] and then continue to do this’?,” Petrucci said.

“Nobody asked us. We talk a lot about safety and about everything but we passed [the site of the accident] after three minutes [of Dupasquier being taken away by helicopter], there was even the flag with the red and yellow stripes because maybe – I don’t know – there were things they needed to use to recover the body. We passed through them like always.

“It is difficult to understand when you have the suit on and go on the bike and go 350km/h thinking next time, today was his time, why it cannot be mine one day? Just a moment thinking, maybe would have been better.”

On the flipside, Australian Jack Miller was prepared for the race to go ahead.

“For me, I felt like racing and I think Jason was a racer at heart and I’m sure he would have wanted the race to go on,” he said.

“It’s the one thing we love to do and the one thing we’re good at. We have tragedies, we all know motorcycle racing is dangerous.

“I think there’s nobody with a gun to your head. At the end of the day if you want to race, you race.”

But Miller was ropeable about the coverage of Dupasquier’s accident, even as the 19-year-old was fighting for life in hospital.

“[On Saturday] I had a dinner, we had Sky TV on in the hospitality and I made everybody unplug all the TVs because at the end I think I saw 10 f—ing replays of the crash,” Miller said.

“And I think this is unacceptable more than anything. You don’t know the situation, you don’t know what’s happening.

“We were all hoping and praying and for them to keep playing this shit shouldn’t happen. That they have access to this footage, it shouldn’t be there.

“But that’s the world we live in at the moment, it’s all about media and getting views. So, it is what it is.”

While a team will often withdraw from a race weekend if one of their drivers or riders is killed, that wasn’t the case for Australian David Brabham at Imola in 1994.

Brabham’s teammate, Roland Ratzenberger, died after a qualifying accident on the Saturday. As Brabham told Wide World of Sports last year, he spoke that night to his father, Sir Jack, and his mother, Betty, who had seen plenty of death during Sir Jack’s own career.

“Yeah, I did, obviously they were used to that kind of situation, unfortunately,” Brabham said.

“That was the first time, and luckily the only time, when I lost a teammate, and obviously it’s not a great experience.

“You just don’t know how to deal with it when it happens.

“We view an accident like that quite differently to how they did in the 1960s, when it was happening so often.”

According to David, it was the advice from Betty that convinced him to keep racing.

“The one thing I remember was actually something my mum said,” he recalled.

“She said, ‘Son, it’s racing, you’ve just got to crack on.’

“That was the attitude, and that’s what I did. I raced the next day, which was unusual, but I felt I had to carry the team and keep pushing. I felt it was an obligation and a duty that I had to do.”

In a situation that seems incomprehensible these days, triple world champion Jackie Stewart last year recounted an incident from his own career, where the drivers had to continue past the wreckage of Piers Courage’s fatal crash at the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix.

“Jochen (Rindt) won that race, and I was second,” Stewart told Wide World of Sports.

“And Jochen and Piers were the best of friends.

“Jochen and I knew it was Piers, because we saw his helmet had come off in the accident.

“We had to drive through the flames. It was ridiculous. In those days the races were never stopped.

“(Stewart’s wife) Helen had to look after Piers Courage’s wife.

“When Jochen and I were on the podium, the only thing we could do was drop our heads and not spray the champagne.”

Attitudes have changed since the appalling days of Stewart’s career, but as this weekend showed, there’s still some way to go. Because as Morbidelli pointed out, sadly, this won’t be the last time it happens.

For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!

pin up