Grand Prix: The Killer Years

Grand Prix - The Killing Years

Today, May the first, is the anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death. Yesterday, it was Roland Ratzenberger’s anniversary. He also lost his life at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. That was 17 years ago and, thankfully, no further lives have been lost in Formula One since that devastating weekend.

Consider the impact those deaths had on the sport and the subsequent safety measures that have affected virtually all categories of motor racing hence. The now widespread use of the HANS device is perhaps the best example.

Now, imagine an era when, in F1 alone, multiple fatalaties were witnessed virtually every year. Then the impact was left on the families and friends of those who died; talk of improving safety was for chickens.

Motorsport is dangerous, we all know that. By today’s standards, though, it is inconceivable how pointlessly dangerous it used to be.

Earlier this year BBC Four broadcast a documentary titled Grand Prix: The Killer Years. It covers a 12 year period in motorsport, from 1961–73, in which 57 drivers lost their lives.


Among them, dual-world champion Jim Clark (1968), a man every bit the equal of Senna in stature at the time of his death, and Jochen Rindt (1970), the sport’s only posthumous world champion. However, it is the closing scenes of this documentary, which shows the death of little known driver Roger Williamson, in horrific graphic nature, that illustrates just how cavalier safety in Formula One used to be. It is unfathomable.

The one hour documentary has been posted in full to YouTube and you can watch it below. It challenges the romance of the era, it indirectly challenges the legend of Colin Chapman and it challenges your senses.

[via Motorsport Retro]

UPDATE 29 August 2013: It appears the full version is no longer available on YouTube. If you’ve not seen this documentary we recommend you track down a copy.