SI Vault
October 02, 1978
Grand Prix racing is the only major form of motor sport that still requires a standing start. It was precisely that method of beginning the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 10 that triggered the 10-car crash at the Monza circuit in which Ronnie Peterson was fatally injured.
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October 02, 1978

A Stop Is No Way To Start

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"Fat embolisms are only very tiny particles," says Professor Fred Watkins, a physician for the Formula I Constructors' Association and a teacher at the London Clinic, "but they have a disastrous effect. There is always the chance of that happening with a fractured bone and there is nothing one can do about it. There can certainly be no blame attributed to the hospital. They had the best facilities and gave the very best treatment."

There may be nothing anyone can do about fat emboli, but something can certainly be done about starting procedures at Monza and elsewhere on the Grand Prix circuit. On the restart of the race, nearly three hours after the crash, Andretti and Villeneuve were charged with jumping the green light and penalized a minute apiece. The green light went on a full 20 seconds after the red—10 seconds late. Though they crossed the start-finish line first and second, Andretti wound up sixth and Villeneuve seventh. Lauda was given the victory, with John Watson second.

Andretti had won his championship, but he had lost a close friend and teammate. Worse still, Grand Prix racing had suffered another brutal blow after 18 months without a fatality. Such tragedies could be averted if the F�d�ration Internationale de l'Automobile adopted a safer starting procedure in Formula I. A carefully controlled rolling start, in which each car is moving at the same speed, would be every bit as exciting, and far safer, than the system now in use. It would certainly save lives.

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