It's a sobering thought that the last three deaths during a grand prix weekend all involved marshals, with two of those - Paolo Ghislimberti, Monza 2000, and Graham Beveridge, Melbourne 2001 - being killed by flying wheels during accidents. In Australia, seven spectators were also injured.
In the latest incident Mark Robinson succumbed to injuries suffered in a freak incident when he fell in front of an extraction vehicle while recovering a stricken Formula 1 car in Montreal a month ago.
Given these fatalities and injuries, have marshals been banned from officiating at events and banished from providing trackside support, have spectators been prevented from taking their seats in the stands or places on the terraces?
Of course not. Instead, F1 painstakingly investigated the incidents, identified the causes and developed systems to prevent a reoccurrence. For example, wheel tether systems were developed, with the composite ropes being progressively strengthened over the years. More secure trackside fencing was mandated, and car design adapted where necessary.
Pitlane speed limits were introduced after three mechanics were knocked down when Michele Alboreto's Minardi lost a wheel during that 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
For 2014, pitlane speeds will be further restricted - a measure announced a week before this latest incident, but, as will become clear, for unrelated reasons.
The net effect of these developments has been not a single flying-wheel incident resulting in injury (or worse) in over a dozen years. True, pre-refuelling ban, the tyre changers were under considerably less pressure due to the longer timeframes required fill the tank, but, still, the sport's recent history in this regard is impressive.
A loose rear wheel from Webber's Red Bull struck a FOM cameraman © LAT
Until, that is, this month's German Grand Prix, when Red Bull's crew failed to adequately secure the right-rear on Mark Webber's RB9 during a routine tyre change, resulting in the errant wheel striking Paul Allen, a Formula One Management TV cameraman, flattening him with serious, but fortunately not life-threatening, injuries.
A report was submitted to the FIA. A perfect storm of tool design, human error and cross-threaded nut - plus the intense heat of battle - is said to have caused the wheel to detach and career down the pitlane.
Clearly, it was a lucky escape; that said, even more clearly the stewards do not consider such a potentially lethal situation worthy of serious punishment: Red Bull was fined a paltry €30,000 for the incident, or less than 0.00016 per cent of its reported annual budget, and arguably less than the overall cost of treating said cameraman. Oh that traffic courts be so lenient...
Where, though, the sport had previously responded with calm and reason, the Nurburgring incident has been the subject of knee-jerking, with the latest measure being a ban of FOM-accredited camera crews in the pitlane during all periods of track action.
Surely, if the area is too dangerous for journalists, photographers and broadcast staff, then it is unsafe for F1 personnel, too - none of whom signed up to be mowed down by errant wheels.
True, motor racing is dangerous, but journalists are as aware (if not more so, for as a profession they are detached and objective) of the sport's dangers as any pass-holders.
Media personnel signed up to get closer to the sport they love, in the process sharing those experiences with fans across the world in order to bring the sensations at the heart of the action to their readers, often in real time.
Just as war photographers know the danger they're in, just as crime reporters are fully aware of the threats to their existence, just as political reporters risk incarceration - all while fully respecting the hazards of their calling - so do motorsport media members put their necks on the line to share inside stories and provide the necessary checks and balances.
F1 journalism is effectively a trident, with the forks respectively representing entertainment, education and enlightenment. The handle represents the truth.
The media acts as F1's fourth estate © XPB
Where real life has its so-called Three Estates (clergy, nobility and commoners), with the media acting as the Fourth Estate in a control function, and the proletariat being the Fifth Estate, so F1 can be similarly divided: officialdom as the First, competitors (team/drivers) as the Second and commercial/technical partners the Third. The Fourth is the accredited media, maintaining a watching brief, and the Fifth is fans/spectators.
The world's strongest democracies exert no restrictions on their media; conversely, consider the pressures (and punishments) journalists come under in some of the globe's less savoury places - where scribes and snappers are prohibited from seeing and hearing the good, bad and ugly on behalf of their readers. But then, on a scale of zero to 10, F1 would hardly trouble such as Zimbabwe.
No historic incident better illustrates the need for the media to be in the thick of the action than those dramatic photographs of Jos Verstappen's fire in Germany in 1994. That incident, too, was caused by a mix of human error and faulty engineering in the heat (literally) of the moment - and the media was there to share the full drama with the watching world.
Images of the fire garnered critical acclaim across the globe; imagine if lens-men and/or TV crews had been banned...
(As an aside, although the Dutchman's Benetton team was found to have illegally removed a filter in the refuelling system to speed up flow, there was no punishment of consequence.)
Over the years the media has kept the sport and its officials and competitors on the straight and narrow, and one can but shudder at the state of the sport had their access been restricted.
That said, had acts of idiocy by the media in any way caused the Red Bull incident, then such a harsh and unilateral clampdown may have been warranted. But not a single journalist or photographer designed the (custom) air tool or the wheelnut, nor did media folk influence the technician's actions. In fact, the cameraman was yards away concentrating on another team...
Surely minds should be focused on eliminating a repeat of the incident rather than simply banning a few peripheral people who take their duties extremely seriously. Would the wholesale media ban have prevented the wheel from flying off? Would the outlawing of TV cameramen have prevented injury?
Who knows, an undeflected wheel, its trajectory not broken by Allen, may have hit two or more pit crew/marshals. Had any hapless victim been a team principal or mechanic, would the FIA/FOM have banned either group from the pitlane with immediate effect?
Benetton mechanics engulfed in flames in the infamous Verstappen 1994 pitstop fire © LAT
After all, the only guaranteed way of ensuring wheels don't fly down the pitlane is through the banning of tyre changes - but that, of course, doesn't suit FOM's agenda of artificially spicing up what could otherwise be an excruciatingly boring show...
Believe not for a moment that the reduction in speed limits mandated for 2014 is aimed at eliminating future Webber-type (or similar) incidents. First mooted over a year ago, the reduction was ratified during the FIA's end-June World Motor Sport Council meeting, and is aimed at crew safety following input from the teams.
Under the previous system of lower speed limits (as low as 60km/h) during free practice than races (as high as 100km/h), drivers experienced difficulty in judging stopping distances when pitting at higher speeds in the midst of battle. How could higher or lower approach/departure speeds affect the safety of wheel changes, as is now being claimed in some quarters?
All these factors point to another agenda at work, one that restricts the movements and access of the media, and thus their ability to 'tell it the way it is'. Rumours have for some time now abounded that FOM intends charging for media accreditation, with access determined by the fees paid - just as TV broadcasters enjoy varying levels of access according to contract level.
Teams are known to be unhappy that photographers/graphic artists and journalists have enjoyed free rein in the pitlane, either while cars are stationary or tootling past; drivers and team bosses are hardly enamoured to know that their every utterance comes under strict scrutiny.
Teams and partners/sponsors have expressed increasing dissatisfaction at the manner in which various scandals - of which there have been far too many for this allegedly blue-chip sport - have been reported, and what better way of collectively punishing the media than via an instant clampdown, later to be selectively relaxed as reward for those who toe the party line.
Baddies? Banished to windowless media centres where their every word is scrutinised, with their parking slots allocated in F1's equivalent of the Outer Hebrides, and their passes mysteriously getting misplaced on occasion...
Photographers and journalists had enjoyed free reign in the pitlane © XPB
Rumours have long abounded that FOM wishes to control media accreditation - as it does TV/radio outlets, who pay heavily for the rights - and this could be yet another step in that direction, with the biggest payers (note, not players) enjoying privileged access.
Accredited photographic studios and news agencies, for which read 'highest bidders', would qualify for exclusive rights but with strictly controlled conditions, including censorship.
Indeed, according to sources one of the sticking points of the new Concorde Agreement - and hence the six-month delay in its signing - is said to be the FIA's reluctance to cede control of the media to FOM, and while the governing body's doggedness to date is admirable, one wonders how much longer it can resists the lure of lucre hung over it by FOM. FOM would in turn recover such sums via media access contracts...
Overall the sport - and thus its fans (Fifth Estate) - will be all the poorer should this media clampdown be implemented. Banning the media will hardly stop wheels flying off cars, nor prevent the dangers inherent in the pitlane.
Journalists fully accept the risks when they sign up - after all, no one is forced to walk the pitlane - yet those that responsibly venture into the danger zone happily do so in the interests of imparting deeper perspectives of the sport they love.
This situation is another example of F1 doing all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons; of shooting the messenger. In the final analysis, bans should be imposed by the FIA on those who are ultimately responsible for dangerous incidents, not those who report on them.
Of greater import, though, is that the governing body retains control over media accreditation.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.
South African-born Dieter trained as industrial engineer before holding down a variety of senior motor industry marketing and manufacturing positions. At the age of 40 he decided to follow his passion, and became the first and only South African journalist to cover Formula 1 regularly. Dieter joined AtlasF1 at the beginning of 2004 – a year prior to its merger with Autosport – and his regular column offers an intriguing analysis of F1’s politicking and commercial chicanery. Although now also proudly Belgian, he gives his domicile as "Wherever F1 duplicity lurks".@RacingLines More features by Dieter Rencken