GREATER NOIDA // The international motorsports community continues to mourn the death of two of its most popular characters, but Formula One drivers united on Thursday to dismiss suggestions that, with the world championship having already been decided, they might be tempted to ease off the accelerator at this weekend's Indian Grand Prix.
Since the Korean Grand Prix two weeks ago, Dan Wheldon, the British IndyCar driver, and Marco Simoncelli, the Italian MotoGP rider, have both succumbed to injuries sustained in racing accidents. The fatalities have resulted in an increased focus on safety in motorsports.
With the F1 circus arriving at Buddh International Circuit for the first time this week, teams have proved particularly keen to ensure safety standards have been met. Such concerns, however, were not eased by reports in Die Welt, the German newspaper, that during a safety test earlier this week at the US$400 million (Dh1.47 million) circuit south-east of Delhi, key marshals took more than 20 minutes to locate the on-site medical centre.
Yet Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion who races for Mercedes-GP, insists that so long as the track is passed fit to race by the FIA, the sport's governing body, he will not be focusing on the potential dangers of his vocation.
"I don't think that while we drive, we think that we put ourselves in danger," Schumacher said. "When we take the cars to the limit, that's what we feel comfortable with and therefore our ambition is always to take the cars to the limit and it will be the same here this weekend."
Formula One has not suffered a fatality since the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, but Felipe Massa, Schumacher's former teammate at Ferrari, was involved in a serious accident in 2009 when he was hit by a suspension spring during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. The incident saw the Brazilian enter a coma and he failed to take part in any of the season's seven remaining races.
When asked about Wheldon's and Simoncelli's accidents, Massa said: "Of course, those of us who race, we always know the risk is there - every time you go out on-track. When you are racing, you do not think so much about the risks and you always push hard, sometimes too hard. But all the same, it is still a terrible shock when you see something like that and it reminds you the risk is there."
Paul Di Resta, the Force India driver whose cousin is IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, said he does not feel any danger when he is in his car and is happy to rely on the FIA for guidance. "[They have] done a great job with safety over the years. After things like that, lessons are learnt and, as long as we take measures to stop that, that's what I see as going forward," he said.
Schumacher added that while absolute safety is "impossible", the standard has "hugely improved" in recent years. "If you look at a new project such as this track, there's lots of huge run-off areas and it certainly has a very high standard of safety," he said. "If on top, something happens, then that's what I would call fate, and fate is something that we all have to face sooner or later."
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing's Australian driver, will carry a tribute to Wheldon on his helmet this weekend. The two men raced together while growing up. "We always need to keep learning and we are never arrogant enough to put our heads in the sand and say that the category is perfect," Webber said. "Yes, we would like it to be challenging and a little bit daring, but we should also never exclude having the element of risk lower if we can achieve that."
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