Most sports have their inherent dangers, but F1 has a well-known history of being extremely dangerous, especially in the early years. However, with major safety improvements in the sport in recent years, many fans may wonder just how many F1 drivers have died racing.
46 F1 drivers have died either during races, practice or test sessions, or in unofficial F1 events since the sport’s inception in 1950. Like most motorsports, Formula 1 is not without its risks, and each driver is aware that every time they step into an F1 car, their life will be put at risk.
Thankfully, safety is the primary concern these days. While the risk to life still exists, the sport is much safer today than ever before. The days of drivers having a one-in-three chance of survival over a season are long gone, but below we take a closer look at just how dangerous the sport can be.
F1 is a dangerous sport. The statistics don’t hide the fact that, since its inception, Formula 1 has injured countless numbers of drivers and spectators and killed many others. But just looking at the stats doesn’t paint a very accurate picture of how or why F1 can be dangerous.
A modern F1 monocoque is one of the safest places to be when involved in a crash. There are always going to be risks involved in a sport where 20 high-performance cars race at 200 mph, but these risks are constantly being reduced. In the early 1950s, F1 drivers rarely wore seatbelts, sometimes drove in short-sleeved shirts if it was a warm day, and the cars were death traps.
To put it into an even more startling perspective,the reason F1 drivers were loath to wear seatbelts was that they felt it would be better to be thrown from the car in a crash rather than being trapped inside and burning to death. More emphasis was put on winning a race than on protecting a driver. Health and safety meant knowing which way the hospital was.
That’s not to pour scorn on the drivers of the era, who must have been as brave as lions. The cars handled like angry snakes and these incredible drivers risked their lives every time they sat in the cars. The tracks were often wildly dangerous, and to slow the car in the event of a crash, a driver would either hit a brick wall or a bale of hay, which often caught fire.
Each fatality and accident meant a little more was learned in regard to preventing the same from happening again. As the years progressed and drivers became better paid, they became more vocal in their demands to have a fighting chance at surviving a full season. As cars became faster, the need for better safety measures became clear.
The lengths that F1 goes to protect the drivers from harm is in stark contrast to the sport from 1950 to 1980. Advances in technology and engineering make the modern Formula 1 car not only insanely fast but designed like an impenetrable cocoon to protect the driver.
Carbon fiber has been a huge boon to the safety of F1 drivers as it is both lightweight and extremely strong. Accidents can and will happen from time to time, but overall, a carbon fiber monocoque is actually often a safer place to be in a crash at 200 mph than a standard road vehicle crashing at 50 mph.
Stricter race rules, safer circuits, anda greater emphasis on safety equipment such as the Halo or state-of-the-art helmetsmean that a driver today is as well protected as they can possibly be. Rogue elements occasionally get past these safety measures, but overall F1 is quicker, safer, and just as enjoyable today as it was 40 years ago. Now, hopefully, every driver can finish a season intact.
Between the first F1 fatality in 1952 and the last of the deaths as a result of a World Championship race in 2015, the vast majority came between 1952 and 1982. Only seven drivers have lost their lives since. That alone should offer some insight into the incredible levels of safety introduced to F1 in the past 40 years.
Formula 1’s safety stands up well compared to other motorsports. All such events have risk associated with them, but the difference between modern motorsports and older incarnations of the sports is that an accident now no longer means almost certain death.
NASCAR, IndyCar, and motorcycle racing have had unfortunate fatalities over the years,but risk management and safety equipment have had a huge effect on the reduction in lives lost. F1 fatalities are comparable to those of other motorsports, all of which have seen a noticeable drop in deaths in recent years.
F1 has a similar fatality rate to IndyCar, which has seen 95 deaths, with IndyCar being 34 years older than F1 and having held more races. Over the last 40 years, IndyCar has seen just 9 deaths, which gives IndyCar a drop in fatalities similar to F1. With 86 IndyCar deaths occurring prior to the last 40 years, it’s clear that measures have been taken in both sports to make them much safer.
How Many F1 Drivers Have Died In Races?
19 F1 drivers have died in races, with others losing their lives during practice and test sessions. Others have lost their lives when taking part in memorial or exhibition races, and an F1 driver has not lost their life as a direct result of a World Championship race since Jules Bianchi in 2015.
Each Formula 1 driver that has passed away doing what they loved has left a little of themselves in the legacy of the sport, and as long as there are races and fans of F1, each driver gets a little piece of immortality. Over the decades, some outstanding drivers have lost their lives in races, practice sessions, or non-racing events.
Below we briefly look at each driver, their nationality, the date of their death, and how some of the most gifted Formula 1 drivers in history were lost. It’s worth noting that the number of deaths we see early on are alarmingly regular, but we thankfully see a huge decline. By the mid-1990s, losing a driver was the exception rather than the rule.
It’s worth noting that not all of the drivers below lost their lives in F1 races. Many lost their lives during practice, qualifying or testing sessions, while others lost them in non-World Championship events. For the sake of our list, we have only included those that raced as F1 drivers at some point in their careers.
American IndyCar legend Chet miller raced at the Indy 500 an astonishing 19 times in an illustrious career spanning over 20 years. It was perhaps inevitable that fate eventually caught up with Miller. During a practice run in 1953, the “Dean of the Speedway” lost his life on the south turn of the famous track.
Belgian F1 driver Charles de Tornaco is a prime example of just how lacking early Formula 1 races were in safety measures. Not only was de Tornaco fairly inexperienced, having only participated in four Grands Prix up until his death, but due to completely inadequate care, his chances of survival were almost non-existent.
A lack of an ambulance meant he was driven to the hospital in the back of a private car, where his severe head and neck injuries ultimately proved fatal. It is this lack of organization in the early years of F1 that led to many deaths that could potentially have been avoided.
The Nurburgring circuit in Germany has always been a treacherous race for the unwary, and it was here in 1954 that Argentine racer Onofre Marimon lost his life. Desperate to improve his qualifying lap, Marimon lost control on a steep corner and hit a ditch before bouncing off a tree, rolling multiple times before being pinned beneath his Maserati.
While waiting for rescue, an attending priest gave Marimon his last rights, but he passed away before workers could free him. In the days before safety marshals were situated practically everywhere, the length of time it took to free Marimon meant his terrible crash proved insurmountable.
It’s often said that money doesn’t make you happy, and in the case of Mario Alborghetti, this proved depressingly true. Alborghetti commissioned designers and engineers to build him his very own F1 car, and he finally got to race at the non-championship Pau Grand Prix.
Inexperienced, he became distracted when being lapped, and pressed the accelerator rather than the brake when hitting a hairpin corner. After slamming into heavy hay bales at such a speed his helmet was torn off, and Alborghetti died from chest and head wounds.
F1 wasn’t as professional in the early days, so it’s no surprise to hear that when Manny Ayulo lost his life during practice for the Indianapolis 500, he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. It may not have helped anyway, as he hit a concrete wall, but the American driver was also found to have his pockets full of wrenches when he was removed from his wreckage.
Bill Vukovich – May 30, 1955
The incredible bad luck that led to Bill Vukovich passing away begs belief. Leading the 1955 Indianapolis 500 by 17 seconds, the American was about to lap three cars when one flipped, landing in the middle of the track. Another of the three cars then swerved to avoid that car, hitting the third of the three cars, which then hit Vukovich.
This incredible scenario then led to Vukovich being pushed over the outer wall, flipping in the air, before coming to rest upside down on a group of parked cars. Bursting into flames, Vukovich was already dead by this point, having been partially decapitated after hitting a low bridge during his spin off the track.
During testing of a new Ferrari at the Modena circuit in 1957, Italian F1 driver Eugenio Castellotti hit a kerb at high speed after being told to speed up to improve his lap times and was thrown 100 yards from his car. He died instantly from a fractured skull.
The Indianapolis circuit has taken several lives over the years. In 1957, when it was used as an F1 venue, Keith Andrews took Guiseppe Farina’s Ferrari for a test run. Upon trying to correct a slide, his car hit the pit wall, and Andrews was crushed to death between the cowl and the fuel tank. Farina wisely withdrew from the Indy 500.
The Indy 500 claimed another victim in 1958 when Pat O’Connor lost his life in a 15-car pileup on the first lap. On turn three, O’Connor hit a pileup, and his car flew 50 feet before landing upside down and bursting into flames. O’Connor died instantly, but incredibly, the race continued, with winner Jimmy Bryan stating, “it was a 200-lap nightmare.”
Competition with a teammate can be vital, but it can also be dangerous, as Luigi Musso found at the 1958 French Grand Prix. Chasing fellow Ferrari driver Mike Hawthorn, Musso hit a ditch at high speed before cartwheeling away. He was airlifted to a local hospital where he sadly passed away from his injuries the same day. Mike Hawthorn went on to win the race.
Seasoned driver Peter Collins made a career out of winning races, but while pushing his car to the limit at the German Grand Prix, the Englishman suffered fatal head injuries after being thrown from his Ferrari. Hitting a tree headfirst after being thrown, Collins passed away the same day. Best friend and fellow driver Mike Hawthorn was so bereft, he retired from racing that same year.
Former Army dispatch rider Lewis-Evans was well used to danger and speed and became a successful F1 driver after World War II. At the end-of-season 1958 Morocco Grand Prix, where the dusty conditions led to his engine seizing up, Lewis-Evans hit barriers at speed before his car burst into flames. Airlifted to the UK, he passed away six days later from his burns.
Former Stock Car racer Jerry Unser Jr lost his life at the Indy 500 in 1959, just a year after flying off the track at the same race and emerging unscathed. 1959 proved to be less lucky for Unser Jr, however, as he died during practice. The Indy 500 became a family tradition though, with two brothers winning the race, and two nephews and his son all having raced there.
Bob Cortner has the dubious honor of being the last F1 driver to be killed at the Indianapolis 500, where he sadly passed away during a practice lap. A rookie at the time, Cortner took to the track on a particularly windy day, and his car was thrown up and down the track before slamming into the wall. His face hit the steering wheel, and hepassed away that evening from the trauma.
Harry Schell had a distinguished and long racing career before passing away in 1960 during practice at Silverstone at 39 years of age. Going at high speed, Schell’s car hit a muddy patch and skidded off the track before losing a wheel. The resulting flip put the car through the barrier and into a brick wall. Schell was a keen advocate of roll bars in F1, and they were finally introduced in 1961.
Dubbed the “wild man of British club racing” Chris Bristow was renowned for his risky driving style before he made the progression into Formula 1. Racing in four F1 races before his death at the Belgian Grand Prix, Bristow hit an embankment before being thrown into barbed wire, which decapitated the young driver. The Chris Bristow Trophy is now awarded to upcoming young British drivers.
Alan Stacey – June 19, 1960
Within minutes of Chris Bristow’s death, Alan Stacey lost his life on the very same corner. Stacey was reported to have been hit in the face by a bird while he was racing at up to 120 mph. Losing control, Stacey went up the embankment and landed in the field yards from the wreck of Bristow. Stacey sadly passed away at the scene of his accident.
Despite being an F1 driver, Shane Summers never actually competed in a World Championship race and often competed in lesser-known British races. It was at one such race that Summers lost his life during a practice session in the rain. Losing control, Summers spun into a concrete wall and was killed instantly.
One of the oddest deaths in F1 history happened at the Modena test track in Italy, where Giulio Cabianca suffered a fatal car malfunction during testing. A stuck throttle meant Cabianca was unable to stop, and after hitting a spectator, veered out of the track and onto a public road. After bouncing off a shopfront, the car hit a taxi, killing all three in the taxi as well as Cabianca himself.
An F1 veteran of 29 races, Wolfgang von Trips was vying for the 1961 Championship when he was killed at the Monza circuit. Clipping the front wheels of Jim Clark’s car, von Trips was thrown from his car as it became airborne after the cars collided. Von Trips, along with 15 spectators, lost their lives in this tragic accident.
A legend of Mexican motorsports despite losing his life at the age of only 20, Ricardo Rodriguez held many records during his short career, including being the youngest-ever Ferrari F1 driver, a title he still holds. When Ferrari didn’t enter the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix, Rodriguez drove for Lotus instead. He died instantly during practice when he crashed into barriers.
After many successful years as a Motorcycle racer, a 25-year-old Gary Hocking switched to F1, because he felt motorcycles were too dangerous to race. The same year he switched, Hocking died during practice for the Nepal Grand Prix. His car suddenly veered off track and flipped end over end. Hocking passed away after hitting his head on the roll hoop of his car.
Carel Godin de Beaufort was the first Dutchman to ever score points in an F1 Championship, competing in 31 Grand Prix in his career. An ardent Porsche fan, de Beaufort was thrown from his car during a practice session at the famous Nurburgring. He suffered massive head and chest injuries that proved fatal. No fan of health and safety, de Beaufort often raced without shoes on.
Englishman John Taylor raced in five F1 Grands Prix before his untimely death at the German event in 1966, where his Brabham car collided with a competitor’s car on the first lap. Suffering horrific burns, Taylor was pulled out of his wreckage and died from his injuries a month later.
Italian F1 royalty, Lorenzo Bandini drove for Ferrari for several seasons in the mid-1960s before a horrific crash at Monaco took his life. After losing control at the Nouvelle chicane, Bandini overturned and went into bales of straw at high speed. Rupturing the fuel tank, sparks ignited the fuel causing an explosion that gave Bandini burns to 70% of his body.
Over 100,000 attended his funeral in Reggiolo, and due to the accident, straw bales were banned in F1 thereafter, being replaced by guard rails instead. The crash itself may have proven fatal anyway, but it was the added fuel of the hay bales that were blamed as the cause of death.
This self-financed F1 driver was the last of the privately-owned teams of the era because costs had begun to skyrocket. During testing at Silverstone, Anderson skidded off the track in wet conditions and hit a marshal’s post. After suffering serious neck and chest injuries in the collision Anderson was rushed to hospital where he later passed away.
In a tragic case of warnings not being heeded, Jo Schlesser died in a fireball at his home Grand Prix in 1968 due to Honda not taking a warning by fellow driver John Surtees seriously.Surtees advised that the experimental, magnesium-bodied Honda was a complete death trap, and he refused to race it, Schlesser didn’t refuse, and when he hit the embankment, the car exploded, killing him instantly.
After an early career racing motorbikes, Gerhard Mitter then progressed to Formula Junior, where he quickly racked up plenty of wins. A move to F1 soon followed, and it was during a practice session at the German Grand Prix that a steering failure caused Mitter to be fatally injured while driving his BMW. Several colleagues of Mitter promptly withdrew from the race.
Building an F1 car out of magnesium to lower its weight may have seemed like a great idea, but during crashes, magnesium quickly turned cars into deadly infernos. At the Dutch Grand Prix, Piers Courage lost steering control and hit an embankment, setting the car on fire. So hot was the fire due to the magnesium burning, that nearby trees also became engulfed in the flames.
One of the front wheels also broke off the car, hitting Courage so hard that his helmet came off. Both the wheel and helmet rolled out of the fire and smoke at the same time. It is believed it was the wheel breaking his neck that ultimately killed Piers Courage rather than the overwhelming heat.
Despite being killed midway through the 1970 season, Jochen Rindt was posthumously awarded the World Championship after winning five of the first nine racesthat year. Rindt crashed during practice for the Monza Grand Prix, his seatbelt somehow causing such damage to his throat that he was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.
Popular Swiss driver Jo Siffert won two Formula 1 races during his career, as well as several non-F1 races. Siffert died on lap 15 of the 1971 World Championship Victory Race after his car suffered mechanical failures which caused it to roll over, trapping Siffert underneath. The car then caught fire,and the trapped Siffert could not be rescued in time.
Two-time F3 champion Roger Williamson only managed to complete one F1 race before being killed during his second race, at the Zandvoort circuit in Holland. Williamson suffered a tire failure, which flipped his car and set it on fire. While many marshals were on hand, none went to help the unharmed-yet-trapped driver, because they were untrained and didn’t know what to do.
Upon seeing his friend in danger, fellow driver David Purley stopped his car to try and save Williamson himself. Purley got a fire extinguisher from a marshal and, hearing Williamson screaming for help inside, doused the car. Unable to flip the car on his own, Purley had to stand and watch his friend die.
After impressing legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart, Francois Cevert got his big break in F1 in 1970 and went on to become an excellent driver and competitor. Cevert was at Watkins Glen in 1973 for a qualifying race when his car caught a kerb and was shot across the track into safety barriers at 150 mph. Cevert died instantly from the head-on collision.
American driver and heir to the Revlon cosmetics fortune, Peter Revson had already competed in the Indy 500 and won two F1 races before his premature death in 1974 at the South African Grand Prix. Suffering front suspension failure, his car wrapped itself around an Armco barrier and caught fire. Revson was pronounced dead immediately.
There had already been several high-profile accidents involving insecurely installed Armco barriers before the needless and avoidable death of Helmuth Koinigg at Watkins Glen in 1974. Hitting the barrier at low speed after suffering suspension failure, Koinigg should have walked away, but a buckling of the lower barrier meant he was decapitated by the upper barrier as his car slid underneath.
Mark Donohue retired from racing in 1973, only to be lured from retirement for the end of the 1974 F1 Championships. After arriving at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1975, Donohue crashed his car during a practice session. He walked away seemingly unscathed, although a marshal was sadly by debris and killed. Donohue had struck his head, however, and died in hospital soon after slipping into a coma.
Despite driving inferior cars, Welshman Tom Pryce was often touted as a future champion and was regarded as a wet-weather specialist. At the 1977 South African Grand Prix, in a wet practice run, Pryce hit a safety marshal at high speed, and both men were killed instantly. A freak accident, Pryce had been beating everyone else’s times during practice, even Niki Laudas’s.
After traveling to the UK with future F1 World Champion Alan Jones, Brian McGuire didn’t have the same fortunes as his compatriot and rarely got opportunities in F1. After modifying his Williams FW04 car, McGuire was competing in a Shellsport BG race at Brands Hatch when he was killed during a practice session.
Two-time Formula 1 runner-up Ronnie Peterson was gravely injured at Monza during the Italian Grand Prix.After the race starter gave the green light too early, cars quickly closed up as several cars at the rear of the grid were already moving when the race began. Peterson suffered severely crushed legs in the ensuing crash and had to be pulled from his car. He died from complications in hospital.
With a wealth of experience, French driver Patrick Depailler had amassed an impressive 95 Grands Prix races before losing his life during testing leading up to the 1980 German Grand Prix. When a suspension malfunction caused his car to crash into the Armco barriers at high speed, Depailler suffered serious head injuries. The car skidded over 100 feet on top of the rail before stopping.
Canadian F1 legendGilles Villeneuve raced in F1 for over six years with Ferrari, becoming one of the most well-known drivers of the era. Villeneuve was fatally injured during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix when looking to overtake another car. The car in front, upon seeing Villeneuve catching up, moved to the right to allow the Canadian to pass.
Unfortunately, so did Villeneuve, and the cars collided at 140 mph, with the Canadian’s Ferrari flying through the air for over 100 meters before disintegrating upon impact. Villeneuve suffered a fatal neck injury and died in hospital with his wife by his side. Gilles’ son, Jacques, later became F1 World Champion in 1997.
Inexperienced F1 driver Riccardo Paletti was just two days from his 24th birthday when he qualified for only his second F1 race at the Canadian Grand Prix. An unusually long wait for the green light meant that the Ferrari in pole position stalled, with most cars swerving madly to avoid it when the race started.
Paletti didn’t react in time and hit the car at 110 mph. Paletti was attended to by the track doctor until the car suddenly went up in flames. Suffering from extreme chest injuries, Paletti wouldn’t have survived anyway, and it took 25 minutes to cut him from the wreckage. Appallingly, Paletti’s mother had to watch the whole scene from the stands after arriving to celebrate her son’s birthday.
After being chosen to replace Niki Lauda at Ferrari only to be then cruelly denied as Gilles Villeneuve was chosen instead, Elio de Angelis was a gifted and competitive driver. During testing in France, de Angelis’ car flipped over and caught fire, trapping him inside. Due to poor track safety and a lack of nearby marshals, the Italian spent 30 minutes trapped and died from smoke inhalation.
After finally making it to F1 at the age of 33, Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger only managed to complete two F1 races before losing his life in qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix. After a damaged front wing became trapped under his car, Ratzenberger was propelled into the outside wall at almost 200 mph. The Austrian was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Just one day after the tragic loss of Roland Ratzenberger, Ayrton Senna, arguably the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, lost his life at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Still shaken by the death of a fellow driver, the race went ahead, and Senna quickly took an early lead before his car left its correct racing line and hit the retaining wall at 145 mph.
Parts of the front wheel and suspension had penetrated Senna’s helmet, causing massive blood loss, and any one of the three major injuries he received would have proven fatal. Track doctor and close friend of Senna, Sid Watkins, was on the scene and tended to Senna within moments but it was already too late.
Jules Bianchi’s passing was nothing short of awful luck. On an extremely wet circuit at the Japanese Grand Prix, many drivers found conditions testing to say the least. Adrian Sutil spun off the track and crashed due to the wet conditions. On the next lap, Bianchi did the same thing and hit the back of the recovery vehicle at extreme speed.
Bianchi’s car was wedged under the recovery crane. The g-forces involved in the crash were estimated at 254 g’s. Several months later, in July 2015, Jules Bianchi passed away.
F1’s early years were filled with deaths, but the sport has gotten safer in the last four decades. Drivers are still at risk, but the sheer number of deaths in the early years of F1 is staggering. Thankfully, for fans and drivers alike, survival is now the norm rather than the exception.