Formula 1

Hugh Skully: Koinigg’s Death Prompted Safety Changes

In 1974 at Watkins Glen International, the United States Grand Prix of Watkins Glen was struck with tragedy, as Helmuth Koinigg was killed following a suspension failure entering the seventh turn.

Hugh Skully, working for Scuderia Finotto, was made responsible for looking after the team and making the necessary arrangements following the accident. After watching the events unfold, Skully decided to take action.

“I made the decision that day that I was going to get involved or leave – and I’m still involved,” he told a group of reports at the Canadian International Auto Show.

Since then, Hugh Skully has become of the biggest innovators in advancing the care and safety of Formula 1 drivers through his work with Sid Watkins.

The pair put together the first medical facility at a track in Canada. Back then, there was none with the only requirement being “a physician of some kind, sometimes a dentist, at the circuit for the race.”

Their work at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (back then Mosport), included putting together the group of “Canadian Motorsports Physicians,” which included a “very good collection of physicians, nurses, paramedics – all dedicated to good medical safety” at the road course. Skully was in charge up until 1992, but it still exists today at CTMP.

They also came up with the idea of a medical car, which is now part of every single Formula 1 race.

“Sid thought that was a great idea, so that’s required at all standing starts at all the championships,” Skully said. “We also put together a team around the circuit. It wasn’t just significant to have a medical crew there – but rather around there.”

Their influence on Formula 1 began after creating the “F1 Medical Commission” in 1981, with Watkins being nominated as the president by Skully.

“Sid and I worked at that for years, and I’m happy to represent Canada at that meeting,” he said. “We have another meeting coming up at the end of February.”

The influence carried further, with Skully’s partner Watkins being one of the founding fathers for the F1 Institute of Safety in 2007, which allowed medical professionals, engineers, and others concerned with safety to come together and make suggestions for change.

Everything Skully has been able to do through the years has paid off in a big way as before Skully became involved, one driver in seven was killed a year. However, aside from Jules Bianchi’s death in 2015, there hasn’t been a death or life-threatening injury sustained by a driver in practice, testing, qualifying or racing since 1994.

“So we’ve had a huge impact in what we’ve been able to do, with the facilities and working with the engineers in regards to safety,” Skully said. “We continue to do that, and it’s been a tremendous career.”

For fans that are interested in Formula 1 history, there’s a special exhibit currently on display right now at the Canadian International Auto Show.

Taking place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from February 17 and 26, the event offers manufacturers the opportunity to showcase their new car line-ups for the year, as well as concept cars. There is also other significant automobile-related exhibits featured throughout the event – including 50 Years of Grand Prix Racing in Canada. The display features seven racecars, including the Williams F1 car driven by Villeneuve at the 1997 European Grand Prix in Spain to the championship. Details surrounding the show can be found at http://www.autoshow.ca.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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