Niki Lauda, was one of the lucky ones in that he survived the horrible accident which left him disfigured for life, but in one piece, for the most part.
He suffered first and third degree burns when his Ferrari hit an embankment and spun out of control, later getting hit by another driver who couldn't avert it.
Back in the day, the safety surrounding F1 cars was not what it is today, so much so, that before the German Grand Prix (GP), in which Lauda crashed, he tried to boycott that race, due to safety concerns. Ironic.
The race went on and Lauda suffered the terrible crash, from which he will return a mere six weeks later.
The first F1 fatal crash took place at the Modena GP in 1953 and took the life of Belgian racer Charles de Torraco, 14 other drivers would die in that decade.
The '60s were not much better, claiming 14 lives on the race tracks, while the '70s saw 12 drivers killed, in the '80s F1 lost four, and the '90s saw two deaths, on the same track, the same weekend.
We take a look as some of the most memorable Formula One accidents in the following list.
Warning: some graphic footage, viewer discretion is advised.
Mark Donohue, USA ( March 18, 1937 – August 19, 1975)Mark Donohue was an American race car driver who was nicknamed "Captain Nice". He was a winner of the famed Indianapolis 500 race in 1972. He was known for designing his own car. Donohue died tragically, a first for an American, at the Austrian GP in 1975 after he lost control of his March 751 and hit catch fencing. He didn't die at the scene, but two days later when a headache developed and he went into a coma from cerebral hemorrhage.
Tom Pryce, Wales (June 11, 1949 – March 5, 1977)Tom Pryce was the only Welshman to win a F1 race and lead a Formula One World Championship Grand Prix: two laps of the 1975 British GP. He died in confusing circumstances after fire marshals were attempting to cross the track to attend to a car fire as drivers where coming upon the final corner into the straight. One of the other drivers, who was directly in front of Pryce, avoided the young marshal, but not Pryce, who couldn't see him and hit the man at 170 mph. The fire extinguisher the man had been carrying hit Pryce in the head virtually decapitating him. He died at the scene.
Ronnie Peterson, Sweden (February 14, 1944 – September 11, 1978)Nicknamed the "SuperSwede" Peterson began his career in kart racing. In 1978 he was the number two in Lotus, second to legend Mario Andretti. At the Italian GP in Monza, Peterson crashed his Lotus during the rainy practice and was given a car which was built for the shorter Andretti and was not comfortable. After the race starter hit the green light before the track was ready, James Hunt collided with Peterson and there was an ensuing pile up of several cars. Peterson's Lotus went into the barrier and caught fire, trapping the Swede inside. Hunt and two others were able to pull him out. He later died at the hospital from fat embolism.
Patrick Depallier, France (August 9, 1944 – August 1, 1980)Patrick Depallier was a driver for Alfa Romeo who had been involved in a near fatal accident while hang gliding the year prior. During the German GP practice session at Hockenheim, he was killed while test driving his Alfa Romeo after it hit the steel barrier at a high rate of speed and he suffered fatal head injuries when the car flipped over.
Gilles Villeneuve, Canada (January 18, 1950 – May 8, 1982)Beloved by fans Gilles Villeneuve had won six GPs during his short career. After a heated argument with teammate Didier Pironi at the San Marino GP the prior week over a risky pass by Pironi, Villeneuve suffered a fatal crash. He collided with another driver at 140 mph during the Belgian GP at Zolder.
Riccardo Paletti, Italy (June 15, 1958 – June 13, 1982)Riccardo Paletti was killed during the start of the Canadian GP, which was the first time he would start successfully in a full line-up. The green light took an unusually long time to start and then Didier Pironi's Ferrari stalled in the pole position. Pironi raised his hand indicating he had a problem, but the light turned green. Many were able to avoid the stalled car, but not Paletti who slammed into the back of the Ferrari at 110 mph. He suffered sever head injuries and was trapped in his car. Pironi came to assist with the F1 head doctor on call. As attempts to get Paletti out were going on, the fuel ignited and engulfed the car. It took 25 minutes to free the Italian who was without a pulse. His mother was watching in the stands and they were to celebrate his 24th birthday in two days. Ironically the track had been renamed for recently deceased Gilles Villeneuve.
Elio de Angelis, Italy (March 26, 1958 – May 15, 1986)Known by the nickname "the last gentleman player", Elio de Angelis was a very popular driver. He was killed while testing his Brabham BT55 at high speed at the French GP. The rear wing of his car detached, which made it do a cartwheel over a barrier causing it to catch fire. His death was precipitated due to the shortage of track marshals who were delayed in attending to him. It took 30 minutes for help to arrive. He died of smoke inhalation at the hospital.
Roland Ratzenberg, Austria (July 4, 1960 – April 30, 1994)The death of Roland Ratzenberg started one of the deadliest times in modern F1 racing. Ratzenberg was killed during the qualifying for the San Marino GP at Imola. He damaged his wing on the previous lap, but instead of going into the pits to get it checked he pressed on and the wing finally broke off. He was competing for the final grid spot. When the wing broke off it went under the car and it failed to turn at the Villeneuve curve crashing at 195.7 mph. The cause of death was skull fracture. He was the first F1 racer to die at a weekend GP since Riccardo Paletti crashed his car in 1982 at the Canadian GP.
Ayrton Senna, Brazil (March 20, 1960 – May 1, 1994)One of the great Formula One champions, Ayrton Senna won three titles during his short, but illustrious career. Senna began his career karting. During the 1988 season Senna and McLaren teammate Alain Prost won all but one of the 16 GPs and some of his records were still intact up until 2006. Many consider Senna one of the greatest F1 champions of all time. A day after Roland Ratzenberg was killed, Senna himself died while leading the San Marino GP at Imola. Senna had obtained a record 65th pole position for the race. Senna had been complaining that the car was not in top shape and after Ratzenberg and Barrichello's accidents things were tense. Senna who had left McLaren, spent his final moments talking about improving safety with Prost. After delays and other accidents, on lap 7, Senna's car left the track and hit the barrier at about 145 mph. The attending physician performed a tracheotomy at the scene due to Senna's weak pulse and extensive loss of blood. It was determined that the force of the impact made the right front wheel and suspension hit the cockpit hitting Senna in the head and forcing it back into the seat. He was airlifted to a hospital where he died hours later. His remains the last time a F1 driver was killed at a GP.
Many improvements have been made, especially after Senna's tragic death, to safety in Formula One. The fact that there have been no fatal accidents since then is prove of the changes.