During a Spa-Francorchamps 24 hour race at the start of August this year, British-Korean racing driver Jack Aitken experienced a terrifying high speed crash at the top of Eau Rouge. Aitken was fortunate to survive the horrific crash which involved three other drivers. Jack Aitken, who is also reserve driver for Williams Racing, suffered a fractured vertebrae and a broken collarbone. Now, as Formula One’s annual trip to Spa-Francorchamps approaches, Aitken has commented as to how he hopes Spa-Francorchamps’ Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners can be made safer to avoid such further incidents. Aitken believes that the key to greater safety is to push back the barriers on the left-hand side of the crest. By doing this, Aitken says that it will enable more room if a car was to crash there.
Jack Aitken’s heart in your mouth moment came as the 25-year-old's Emil Frey Lamborghini Huracan GT3 was hit by several cars. The concertina effect came as Aitken spun at high speed into the barriers of the famous racetrack which led to him then being bounced back onto the track as a result of the force of the impact. Following this, his Huracan was left at the mercy of the oncoming cars and endured three side on hits. The incident left Aitken with fractures to his collarbone and vertebrae and he firmly believes that had the barriers not been located in such close proximity to the racing line, he would not have been involved in such an incident. Now, he hopes to prevent any other racer having to endure a similar scene.
"Obviously, it's a bit of a sensitive subject because we have had some pretty serious accidents over the last decades, it's always been a danger spot," Aitken told Motorsport.com. "I've thought about a fair bit. In my opinion, I think they've done quite a good job for the most part with what is inherently, a very fast corner with a blind exit.
"On the right side it's very open at the top, I don't think there's any major changes that need to be made there and we saw a couple of cars in the Spa 24 hours that did lose it to the right, and that was relatively, completely fine. There's enough space and it's far enough off the track that you're okay.
"The problem is with the kind of crash that I had when you hit the barrier on the left, the distance from the middle of Eau Rouge, when you're going up the hill, into that left barrier isn't big enough. You don't have time to slow down.”
Racing drivers are well known for the way that they can overcorrect a slide and none more so than Max Verstappen. At the Brazilian F1 GP, back in 2016, whilst sliding broadsides across the track towards the inside Armco, Verstappen straightened his Red Bull Racing car back out just before it reached the barriers and continued his race. With the F1 circus shortly due to arrive in town, should such an incident occur in Spa, in the opinion of Jack Aitken, it seems there would be no time for such skillful handling as shown in his remarks to motorsport.com.
"It's also for the type of accident that I had where you are overcorrecting a slide, the car was still relatively straight for me. But I knew there was no way that I was going to avoid the barrier or have time to turn away from it, because the run-off is just not deep enough. So that's one thing, that it needs to be deeper."
Jack Aitken’s remarks that it is a ‘a sensitive subject because we have had some pretty serious accidents over the last decades’ echoed the tragic crash which took the life of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert on the darkest of days back in 2019.
Now, following this most recent of incidents, Spa-Francorchamps Circuit organisers have announced that, in the hope of increasing run-off areas, they will implement more gravel traps, particularly at Raidillon, which was the scene of Aitken’s horror moment.
All signs for improved safety are always welcome but Williams’ reserve driver, well aware of his teammates heading to the same circuit at the end of the month, feels that more should be done.
"Because of it [the barriers] not being deep enough, when you do collide it absorbs the energy and bounces you back out, it puts you right into the firing line," Aitken confessed.
"I've already spoken with a couple of people on the FIA side to try and see if there's anything that I can do from the drivers' perspective just to offer my opinion, prefacing that with, I am not the circuit designer, I don't know what the challenges are with that corner in terms of putting things back and around.”
Nevertheless, should there have been gravel in this infamous part of the circuit back at the start of the month, does Jack Aitken feel that it would have made much of a difference?
"I don't think gravel would have helped on this occasion because travelling 200-250 kilometres an hour, with maybe five to 10 metres of runoff, it's just not enough to slow down and actually it could have made it worse because the dust would have obscured the view even more.”
Aitken’s crash was certainly worse enough and the feeling which emerged when the scene was beamed around the world to the motorsport community was very much one of relief.
"Speaking to the drivers behind me who were involved, that was one of the main issues. They knew there was a big crash because of all the debris but the smoke meant they had no idea where the car was, and with the crest, you can't see that far ahead."
The prospect of these drivers being further unsighted due to dust which would have been present should there have been a gravel trap - does not bear thinking about.
Spa Francorchamps Circuit has had enough tragedy in its time on motorsport racing calendars and as it says on the admission ticket to spectators ‘motorsport is dangerous’. There is no doubt that cars are much stronger and safer than previously. However, having heard from Jack Aitken, the latest survivor of a high speed crash there, one can only hope that the organisers take note.