Due to the high-speed nature of Formula 1 (F1) racing, there will always be safety concerns. So, how many F1 drivers have died? We take a look at all of the fatalities.
Fifty-two drivers have died in accidents at FIA World Championship events or other events while driving Formula 1 cars, with the vast majority occurring in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Since the FIA adopted various safety protocols, only one driver has died at an FIA World Championship event since 1994.
If you’re new to Formula 1 and motorsport, or even if you’ve been watching Grand Prix for decades, deaths haven’t been as commonplace as it was in motorsport’s infancy. So let’s take a look at some of the tragic accidents that have occurred throughout the years.
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Of the 52 F1 drivers that have died, thirty-two occurred at official World Championship Grand Prix races, while seven occurred during tests and 13 occurred outside of official F1 events. Let’s look at the stories behind every fatality at Formula One events. Note that we are not including deaths among spectators, pit teams, or officials.
The very first F1 driver that died on the track was British driver Cameron Earl. Earl was an engineer testing out the R14B car at the Motor Industry Research Association’s (MIRA) test track in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, on 18 June 1952. The 29-year-old flipped his ERA racecar during the test and died in the hospital after sustaining a fractured skull.
Eleven months after Earl’s death at the MIRA test track, American driver, Chet Miller, would be the first driver out of a group of seven to lose his life at the Indianapolis 500, which formed part of the World Championship between 1950 and 1960, despite having a different set of rules. During a test run, Miller became the first driver to lose his life at a World Championship event on 15 May 1953, aged 50.
Miller, whose 20-year career earned him the moniker “Dean of the Speedway”, was fatally injured in a Turn One accident during his practice run of the 1953 Indianapolis 500 while driving the incredibly powerful and dangerous Kurtis Kraft that contained a Novi Engine that was used on the Indy 500 circuit between 1941 and 1966.
Belgian driver Charles de Tornaco also died after crashing his practice run at the Modena Grand Prix on 18 September 1953. He rolled his Ferrari Tipo 500 and died of head and neck injuries on the way to the hospital. The 26-year-old’s death can be considered a consequence of a lack of medical staff and facilities, considering that there wasn’t even an ambulance present, and he died in a private car.
Onofre Marimon, a 30-year-old Argentinian driver, died in an F1 accident on the Nurburgring circuit in a practice run in his Maserati 250F on 31 July 1954. After losing control of his car, Marimon hit a tree and rolled his car before eventually being pinned underneath it and dying after being freed by a rescue team.
On his F1 racing debut on 11 April 1955, Italian driver Mario Alborghetti was killed while driving his Maserati 4CLT on the Circuit de Pau-Ville at the Pau Grand Prix.
Another fatal accident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway occurred on 16 May 1955, where American racer, Manny Ayulo, died in a practice run in his Kurtis Kraft racecar.
Just two weeks after Ayulo’s death, in the same car on the same circuit, but in a race, American driver Bill Vukovich died on 30 May 1955.
On 14 March 1957, Eugenio Castellotti got into a fatal accident in his Ferrari 801 test run on the Autodromo di Modena.
Yet another Indy 500 fatality occurred on 15 May 1957, when Keith Andrews, an American driver, was killed in a practice run in his Kurtis Kraft racecar.
A year after Andrews’ death, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway experienced deja vu when another American driver in a Kurtis Kraft car died in a race on 30 May 1958.
On 6 July 1958, Italian driver Luigi Musso was killed on the Circuit de Reims-Guex in his Ferrari 246 F1 during a race in the French Grand Prix.
Englishman Peter Collina died in his Ferrari 246 F1 on the Nurburgring in the German Grand Prix on 3 August 1958 in a fatal accident when the then 26-year-old lost control of his car it flipped when he hit a ditch.
On October 19, 1958, during the Moroccan Grand Prix, another Englishman, Stuart Lewis-Evans, lost his life when he crashed his Vanwall on the Circuit de Ain-Diab during a race.
Jerry Unsur Jr. was an American driver who would be the penultimate driver to suffer a fatal accident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indianapolis 500 while completing a practice run in his Kuzma.
Bob Cortner was the last driver to lose his life on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it still formed part of Formula 1 events. Driving his Cornis in a practice run on 19 May 1959, Cortner’s death, which is thought to have been caused by heavy winds, was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for the Indy 500’s participation in the FIA World Championships.
On May 13, 1960, at the BRDC International Trophy event, Harry Schell was on a practice run in his Cooper T51, where he got into a fatal accident on the Silverstone Circuit.
English drivers Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey died within minutes of each other at the same turn on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps during a race for the Belgian Grand Prix on 19 June 1960 in their Cooper T51 and Lotus 18 racecars, respectively.
Another event outside of the FIA World Championship, the Silver City Trophy, claimed the life of another English driver, Shane Summers, who was killed in an accident in his Cooper on the Brands Hatch circuit during a practice run on 1 June 1961.
In a test on his Cooper T51, Italian driver Giulio Cabianca was killed in a fatal accident on the Autodromo di Modena on 15 June 1961.
During the Italian Grand Prix on 10 September 1961, German driver Wolfgang von Trips crashed his Ferrari 156 F1 in a race on the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza circuit.
At the Mexican Grand Prix on 1 November 1962, Mexican driver Ricardo Rodriguez died during a practice run in his Lotus 24 on the Autodromo Magdalena Mixiuhca.
Rhodesian driver Gary Hocking died during a practice run on the Westmead Circuit during the Natal Grand Prix on 21 December 1962 in his Lotus 24.
During the German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring circuit, Dutch driver Carel Godin de Beaufort was in a fatal accident in his Porsche 718 in a practice run on 1 August 1964.
English driver John Taylor was another victim of the tricky Nurburgring circuit during the German Grand Prix after fatally crashing his Brabham BT11 during a race on 7 August 1966.
Italian driver, Lorenzo Bandini, lost his life in a fatal accident on 7 May 1967 at the Monaco Grand Prix on the Circuit de Monaco while driving his Ferrari 312 in a race.
While testing his Brabham BT11 on the Silverstone circuit on 14 August 1967, English driver Bob Anderson died after suffering fatal head and neck injuries when he slid off the track.
French Formula One driver Jo Schlesser crashed his Honda RA302 in a race on the Circuit de Rouen-les-Essarts during the French Grand Prix, losing his life on 7 July 1968.
Gerhard Mitter lost his life when he got into an accident in his BMW 269 during a practice run on the Nurburgring circuit during the German Grand Prix on 1 August 1969.
Martin Brain was another English driver who lost his life when he crashed his Cooper T86B during a race at the Nottingham Sports Car meeting on the Silverstone Circuit.
Less than a month after Brain’s death, another English Formula One driver, Piers Courage died at the Dutch Grand Prix on 21 June 1970, where he crashed his De Tomaso 505/38 in a race on the Circuit Park Zandvoort.
Austrian driver, Jochen Rindt, was another driver who lost his life while racing his Lotus 72 during the Italian Grand Prix qualifying rounds on the Autodromo Nationale di Monza on 5 September 1970.
Racing in his BPM P160 during the World Championship Victory Race race, Swiss driver, Jo Siffert, lost his life in a fatal crash on 24 October 1971.
English F1 driver, Roger Williamson, died on 29 July 1973 after crashing his March 731 during a race on the Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Dutch Grand Prix.
Francois Cevert was a French driver who died in a fatal accident during the qualifying rounds of the United States Grand Prix on 6 October 1973. He crashed his Tyrrell 006 on the Watkins Glen International circuit.
While testing his Shadow DN3 on the Kyalami Racing Circuit ahead of the South African Grand Prix, American driver Peter Revson died on 22 March 1974.
On 6 October 1974, Austrian driver, Helmuth Koinigg, crashed his Surtees TS16 in a race on the Watkins Glen International circuit during the United States Grand Prix, losing his life after his car suffered a suspension failure.
American driver, Mark Donohue, crashed his March 751 in a practice round for the Austrian Grand Prix on 17 August 1975
Welsh driver, Tom Pryce, died at the South African Grand Prix on the Kyalami Racing Circuit on 5 March 1978 when he crashed his Shadow DN8 during a race.
Brian McGuire was an Australian F1 driver that died in Round 11 of the Shellsport International Series on the Brands Hatch circuit, where he crashed his McGuire BM1 during practice on 29 August 1977.
Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson died in a fatal accident on 10 September 1978 at the Italian Grand Prix on the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza circuit when he crashed his Lotus 78 during a race.
French driver, Patrick Depailler, crashed his Alfa Romeo 179 during a test on the Hockenheimring circuit on 1 August 1980.
During the qualifying rounds for the Belgian Grand Prix on 8 May 1982, Canadian driver, Gilles Villeneuve, died when he crashed his Ferrari 126C during a race on the Circuit Zolder.
During the Canadian Grand Prix, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was responsible for another fatal accident on 13 June 1982, shortly after Villeneuve’s death. Italian driver, Ricardo Paletti, crashed his Osella FA1C into a stationary Ferrari that driver Didier Pironi had stalled.
Another fatal F1 accident that occurred during a test took the life of an Italian driver, Elio de Angelis, whose Brabham BT55 cartwheeled over a sidetrack barrier. He was stuck inside his racecar as it burst into flames. He managed to get out, but the lack of emergency assistance ultimately led to his death.
Roland Ratzenberger, an Austrian driver, lost his life when he got into an accident in his Simtek S941 during the San Marino Grand Prix qualifying rounds on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit on 30 Apri, 1994. However, his death has been largely overshadowed by the tragedy that would occur the very next day…
One of the most infamous moments in the history of Formula One was the double tragedy that occurred at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. The day after Roland Ratzenberger’s death, Brazilian legend, Ayrton Senna, lost his life on the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit on 1 May.
Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths would send shockwaves through the FIA and lead to significant reform of safety protocols that would end fatalities in any World Championship events for 20 years.
British driver, John Dawson-Damer, lost his life while racing a vintage F1 car, the Lotus 63, during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, during a run on the Goodwood Hillclimb on 24 June 2000.
In the Czech Superprix (now the BOSS GP Series) on 14 July 2002, Austrian driver, Fritz Glatz, crashed his Footwork FA17 during a race on the Autodrom Most circuit in what would be the last Formula One fatality for over a decade.
Denis Welch, a British businessman who developed a taste for vintage F1 cars, crashed his Lotus 18 at the Jack Brabham Memorial Trophy in a race on the Silverstone Circuit on 27 July 2014 and died, reminding F1 fans that there’s a good reason behind the additional safety features that are now required for all modern F1 cars.
One of the great F1 tragedies that lives in the memories of young F1 fans after so many years without any fatalities is that of French driver, Jules Bianchi, who lost control of his Marussia MR03 during a race at the Suzuka International Racing Course on 5 October 2014 during the Japanese Grand Prix. He initially survived the incident but would eventually lose his battle against his injuries sustained in the accident after spending nine months in a coma.
French driver David Ferrer’s death is the most recent incident associated with Formula One cars and, once again, it was a vintage vehicle, with Ferrer losing his life behind the wheel of a March 701 during a race at the Historic Grand Prix on the Circuit Park Zandvoort on 2 September 2017.
You will notice that the vast majority of all deaths in Formula One occurred within the first 30 years of the motorsport’s existence. This is largely due to a lack of safety regulations and protocols that are now mandatory during all World Championship events. For example, cockpit openings have been enlarged so that drivers can escape easier in the event of an emergency. Ayrton Senna’s death led to the introduction of measures such as bodywork aerodynamic limitations, speed limits for pit lanes, and circuit modifications.
These measures have been incredibly successful in turning Formula One into a safer sport. Fans are happy to see the reforms, comfortable knowing that their favorite drivers aren’t putting their lives in danger.