5 times F1 drivers left their cars to help fellow racers on track

George Russell rushes to Zhou Guanyu's aid at the 2022 F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain
George Russell rushes to Zhou Guanyu's aid at the 2022 F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain
Khushi Chandani

Safety in F1 has evolved rapidly over the years and evidence of this was seen once again at last weekend's 2022 F1 British Grand Prix. The race at Silverstone saw Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu saved by the recently introduced halo from a crash that could potentially have proven fatal.

In a real act of sportsmanship, George Russell, who was also involved in the incident, was seen rushing towards the Chinese driver to check on him and provide assistance.

It is not the first time, however, that a driver has gone out of his way to protect a competitor involved in a dangerous crash. At a given point in time, a mere twenty drivers are racing in F1, which means that while these athletes are here to compete and win, they do feel a sense of duty and camaraderie towards one another.

Here are 5 times that F1 drivers left their cars to help fellow racers on track.

#5 Mike Hailwood at the 1973 F1 South African GP

Mike Hailwood and five-time F1 GP winner Clay Regazzoni were involved in a massive collision on the third lap of the South African GP back in 1973. The Briton selflessly tried to pull an unconscious Regazzoni out of his BRM that had caught fire.

Hailwood's driving suit also caught fire in the process. Thanks to the efforts of a marshal, however, Regazzoni's life was saved, allowing him to return for the very next Grand Prix in Spain.

Kyalami 1973: Mike Hailwood getting out of his Surtees & about rescue Regazzoni, unconscious in his blazing BRM.#F1

Speaking about the incident at the time, Hailwood said:

“They got the fire out but he [Clay Regazzoni] was still sitting there, unconscious. Then the fire went off again, so I went back in and helped pull him out with the help of a marshal.”

While the race was eventually won by Sir Jackie Stewart, this act of pure heroism earned Hailwood the George Medal, Britain's second-highest peacetime gallantry award. This is one of the very few incidents from the time where both drivers involved only endured minor burns and injuries, allowing them to return to racing in no time.

#4 David Purley at the 1973 F1 Dutch GP

In the very same season, F1 witnessed one of the most heartbreaking incidents in the history of the sport at the 1973 Dutch GP. In only the second race of his career, British racing driver Roger Williamson was involved in a high-speed crash, which saw his compatriot David Purley try his utmost to save him.

David Purley tries to rescue Roger Williamson's life (awarded the George Medal for his courage). #F1 1973 #DutchGP

On the eighth lap of the GP, Williamson's car went flying into the barriers after suffering a left rear tire failure. The car lay upside down against the barriers and immediately caught fire after the petrol tank exploded. Despite this, the race continued under the yellow flag.

Purley, however, witnessed the horrific incident and sprinted towards Williamson in an attempt to save his life by turning the car over. In a shocking turn of events, marshals who were present at the scene did not have any flame retardant clothing, forcing Purley to take the fire extinguisher himself to aid the situation.

Despite these heroic efforts, the incident proved to be fatal as Williamson died of asphyxiation. Purley later admitted that Williamson could have been saved had there been better protective measures, saying:

“I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t come and help me, but I think we could’ve done something more for Roger [Williamson].”

Purley was eventually awarded the George Medal for his bravery and sportsmanship.

#3 Guy Edwards, Harald Ertl, Brett Lunger, and Arturo Merzario at the 1976 F1 German GP

In an inspiring story of heroism, three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda's life was saved by four other drivers from a blazing crash at the 1976 German GP on the Nürburgring.

Niki Lauda survived a huge crash #OnThisDay at the 1976 #GermanGP. Miraculously, he was back racing six weeks later.

The Austrian's Ferrari 312T2 hit the barrier and spun back into the middle of the track, where Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger simply could not escape the wreckage, although Guy Edwards made it through. The Ferrari immediately burst into flames, and all three drivers rushed to save Lauda.

Arturo Merzario, who saw the incident, stopped his car, joined the three drivers, and came to Lauda's aid. While describing the unfolding of the events, the Italian said:

“I weighed only 60 kilos. It is a miracle I was able to drag Niki [Lauda] out of the cockpit and away from the car.”

Niki Lauda made it out of the shocking incident only as a result of the valiant efforts made by the four drivers. He returned to the track six racing weeks later and went on to win two world championships despite the burns suffered.

Edwards, who sustained second-degree burns from the incident, was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his response and the attempts made to save the Ferrari driver.

#2 James Hunt at the 1978 F1 Italian GP

On the very first lap of the 1978 F1 Italian GP, former world champion James Hunt and Ronnie Peterson were both involved in a dreadful crash.

Peterson's Lotus went right into the barriers before catching fire. Hunt hurried to his aid immediately and pulled the Swedish driver out of the car, with the help of Clay Regazzoni and Patrick Depailler. Peterson suffered severe injuries to his leg but was brought back to consciousness. He was eventually taken to the hospital 20 minutes later when medical help arrived at the track.

Describing his attempt to save the driver, Hunt said:

“There was one marshal there already knocking down the flames around where Ronnie [Peterson] was, and that gave me a chance to go and try and pull him out.”

Unfortunately, Peterson's condition only worsened throughout the night, and he was declared dead the very next morning after suffering kidney failure due to fat embolism.

#1 Ayrton Senna at the 1992 F1 Belgian GP

An unconscious Erik Comas was rescued by three-time world champion Ayrton Senna following a major crash at the Blanchimont corner during the Belgian GP qualifying back in 1992.

Erik Comas had a huge shunt in practice at Blanchimont & Ayrton Senna stopped to help the Frenchman. Belgian GP, 28th-30th August 1992 #F1

The Brazilian, who is arguably one of the most highly regarded drivers in the history of the sport, displayed an immense sense of sportsmanship as well as presence of mind following the crash. He immediately stopped his car to help Comas, who was unconscious, with the car engine running at full throttle. Senna ran towards him and turned off the car's engine, saving the Frenchman from a potential explosion on the track.

Fate would take a tragic turn a few years later, when Comas would be on scene to helplessly see Senna being treated after the latter's fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino GP.

Edited by Aranya Chaudhury


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