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Maurice Hamilton: Passenger safety in F1

Maurice Hamilton September 24, 2013
Mark Webber gets a ride back to the bits with Fernando Alonso in Singapore © Sutton Images
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You don't want to hitch a ride on a single-seater racing car if you can help it. And I'm not referring to Mark Webber's lift to the Singapore pits courtesy of Fernando Alonso and Red Cabs of Maranello.

That incident has been blown out of proportion because Webber and Alonso received reprimands for respectively running onto the track and stopping on a blind corner. The taxi ride itself had nothing to do with the stewards' judgement; the false assumption that it had looks 10 times worse because Webber's third reprimand triggered a 10-place penalty at the next race in Korea. If the marshals did forbid Webber from going onto the track, then he is bang to rights on that alone.

Whatever the detail, the worry is that the mixed publicity might prompt a knee-jerk reaction banning a competitor being helpful to a rival at the end of a hard day's work. It's been part of racing since men began dropping chequered flags.

There was a comic scene in Mexico 1986 when Philippe Alliot offered a ride to Stefan Johansson and Rene Arnoux, only for the Ligier to grind to a halt, all three then transferring to Nelson Piquet's Williams and testing the quality of the FW11's ride height in a manner Patrick Head never intended.

Nigel Mansell's gesture in bringing Ayrton Senna home at Silverstone in 1991 proved so popular that a quick-thinking company actually made a model of the Williams taxi and its passenger. And, dare I say, you only need to go back a couple of years to the German Grand Prix when Webber stopped to assist some guy called Alonso.

In a few of the examples quoted above, the passengers rode without crash helmets while waving to the crowd. But I guess in this day and age someone is going to say that's terribly dangerous and should be banned at the end of an event in which the alleged guilty party has been driving on the absolute edge for an hour and a half and clearly knows nothing about self-preservation.

Returning to my original point, there is actually a case for thinking twice about the temperament of your driver before accepting a ride. Vittorio Brambilla is remembered for crashing in excitement after winning his only Grand Prix in Austria 1975. But you may not know that he had an elder brother Ernesto (known as 'Tino'), who raced motorbikes and, occasionally, single seaters.

The story goes that the brothers were testing a F3 car at Monza in the late 1960s; Tino driving and Vittorio overseeing. Tino stops suddenly near Lesmo 2 and, hearing the silence, Vittorio correctly assumes he might have run out of fuel and dispatches their mechanic, Pino. Walking through the wooded infield, Pino duly arrives with a can of fuel and restarts the car. Tino, telling his man to side astride the engine cover and hold the rollover bar, sets off. But, being a Brambilla, he only knows one speed.

Tino returns to the pits and climbs out. When Vittorio enquires of the whereabouts of their mechanic, a wide-eyed Tino slaps his forehead. He'd forgotten all about him.

They found Pino face down in the grass on the outside of Parabolica. Not only did he survive but he continued to be the Brambillas' trusty mechanic.

Can't imagine what they would have made of such careless behaviour on Sunday.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live