Ask anyone in world motorsport and they’ll say that safety is paramount. Track safety is certainly not an antiquated notion, but the world takes it more seriously now than it did in 1981.
Two mechanics were injured at the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix, one was fatal. On the Friday of the event Giovanni Amadeo from Osello was killed when he fell off the pit wall and was hit by Williams’ Carlos Reutemann. Prior to the start of the Grand Prix, Dave Luckett was attempting to restart Ricardo Patrese’s Arrows Ford when team-mate Siegfried Stohr drove straight into him.
Luckett is a motorsport stalwart. He’s been involved for the best part of 40 years. He started as a mechanic with Shadow Racing Cars working on the Can-Am team and then with its F1 team. During his F1 career he also worked at Arrows, Simtek and Lola, to name a few, and as Chief Mechanic worked with drivers like our own 1980 World Champion Alan Jones, Riccardo Patrese and Gerhard Berger.
In ‘81 Luckett was the chief mechanic on the Riccardo Patrese Arrows-Ford. Prior to the start of the Belgian race all of the mechanics and several drivers stood on the grid to protest the lack of safety for team personnel. There was also a minute silence to mourn the death of Amadeo.
“It all started on Friday when one of the Osella mechanics fell off the pit wall and was hit by Carlos Reutemann’s Williams,” Dave Luckett told Speedcafe.com.au.
“We’d heard he was in bad shape and had actually died on the Saturday night.
“All the mechanics gathered at the front of the grid for a minute’s silence and some of the drivers came and joined us.”
In 1981 the FIA did not run Formula One events; race scheduling was the responsibility of the track owner and the local motor sports authority (ASN). There was no systematic starting procedure in place; every track did things their way.
The Belgian race officials were keen to start the race on time and flagged the start of the warm-up lap. At this stage team personnel were still exiting the grid and some F1 cockpits were still empty.
“There were delays in the guys getting back to the cars for the start so it was all a bit of a shambles really,” Luckett continued.
“Normally we’d head back to the garages but we stayed on the pit wall and then Riccardo stalled the car.”
What happened next shocked everyone because it was apparent that race officials had not seen Luckett jump the pit wall to re-start Patrese’s stricken Ford.
“I jumped over the wall with the starter and then (the race) went green,” said Luckett.
“Siegi (Stohr) went for a gap in the traffic and ran straight into Riccardo and collected me. I really don’t remember the impact – just waking up in hospital.”
Luckett was fortunate to survive, albeit badly injured.
“I was pretty beat up including a broken leg, arm and lost the end of the little finger,” he said.
“I had a few weeks in hospital in Belgium and then headed back to the UK.
“After a couple of weeks they brought me back to the shop on crutches and said they wanted me to come to the next race to help cheer the guys up!”
These days, Luckett is the Technical Director at Patron Highcroft Racing which runs David Brabham in the American Le Mans Series.
Luckett doesn’t think about May 17, 1981 very often, but the cold weather reminds him of what happened and how lucky he was.
“The finger gets a bit sore on cold mornings in Connecticut these days; that is really the only side affect,” Luckett said.
“Although I suggest I probably got some brain damage as well because all these years later I’m still playing this game.”
Luckett, Patron Highcroft Racing and David Brabham are competing at Le Mans next weekend where Brabham is aiming to take back-to-back victories in the famous French endurance race, ableit in a different class.
Brabham will co-drive at IRWIN Racing at the L&H 500, Phillip Island, the Supercheap Auto 1000, Bathurst, and the Armor All 600, Gold Coast.
To see Luckett escape fatal injuries at Zolder in 1981, check out the videos below.