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Shocking Macau racing car accident rings safety alarm bells

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Map of Macau locating the area where the car of 17-year-old driver Sophia Floersch flew off the track at the Formula Three Macau Grand Prix Sunday. © AFP / Nick SHEARMAN

Paris, France, Nov 19 – Questions are being asked about safety standards in motorsports after a horrifying crash at the Macau Grand Prix on Sunday led to 17-year-old German driver Sophia Floersch undergoing seven hours of spinal surgery.

Why is the Macau Grand Prix dangerous?

Motorcycle and racing car Grand Prix have been held for over 60 years in Macau, a town with the reputation as being the Asian Las Vegas, and the Formula 3 race in which German racer Floersch hurtled into marshals and photographers after flying off the track on Sunday is the most popular race of all.

Raced over a temporary circuit at Guia, the 6.2-kilometre track is dotted with long straights where speeds of 275km/h are the norm, which are then coupled with tight, blind corners. As with most urban circuits the roads are narrow and there are few safety exits.

Any driver losing control on a corner or chicane will almost certainly hit the barriers and those behind will find it almost impossible to avoid running into them. In a GT category event in 2017 there was a fifteen-car pile up under just those circumstances.

Three people have died on the Macau circuit in recent years: motorcyclists Daniel Hegarty and Luis Carreira — in 2017 and 2012 respectively — and the Hong Kong racing driver Phillip Yau, also in 2012.

Another driver, a race commissioner and two photographers were also injured when Floersch’s vehicle flew out of control into a corner over a barrier on Sunday. Miraculously no spectators were hurt, but it would be hard to deny spectators’ lives were on the line in that accident.

What happened to Sophia Floersch?

No television footage exists of the accident but spectators filmed Floersch tearing into a right-angled corner at 276km/h (171.6 mph).

Her Dallara-Mercedes ran into the back of a rival car, sending her into a wall and ripping off her left-side wheels before she flew over the newly installed kerb buffers. She was propelled over Japanese driver Sho Tsuboi’s car and she then smashed through the security grill and destroyed a cabin housing photographers, falling into a zone where the race commissioners were.

Floersch fractured her spine. Doctors said after the lengthy operation that the teenager could move her limbs. The race commissioner was left with a broken jaw, one photographer was badly concussed and another suffered injuries to his liver. Tsuboi, 23, was considered to have had a lucky escape after the Floersch’s airborne car hit the safety-arc or halo just behind his head.

What are motor racing experts saying?

Jonathan Noble, a journalist for Motorsport.com,said “safety measures proved key for (Floersch), the photographers and track workers”, while Edoardo Mortara, who won the race twice, took to Twitter to defend the motor racing body FIA, saying: “We need to thank @fia for the work they’re putting in order to make our races as safe as they can be. Let’s stop complaining and questioning their work #thankyoufia.”

Lucas di Grassi, a Brazilian former winner of the race, said the sport would always carry risks. “I love Macau Grand Prix and everyone entering that race must be aware of the risks. Motorsport is dangerous and it will never be 100 percent safe. We all should be thankful to the incredible work @fia does in safety and this crash just shows how safe these cars are.”

He said he thought the main problem was with “building kerbs inside the track”.

Di Grassi said there had been accidents at Macau before and added: “Let’s learn from it.”

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