Byline: ALAN ATTWOOD
The inquest into the death of a trackside marshal at this year's Australian formula one Grand Prix was told yesterday that safety fences were too low, spectators were too close to the track, and that access holes in the fences should never have been there. Consulting engineer Mark Dohrmann also said that, on his analysis of the circuit and the speed and behaviour of cars in a race, it was possible that "an entire car could go over the fence". This could happen, he believed, if a car "took off" after a collision or, alternatively, left the track and cartwheeled over the fence. In response to questions from counsel assisting the coroner, Jim Kennan, QC, Mr Dohrmann said that his analysis of events following a racing incident suggested to him that debris from a collision could be flung as far as 300 metres from a crash site and as high as 22 metres. Asked by Mr Kennan for his conclusions after a study of the circuit infrastructure, Mr Dohrmann replied: "I don't think the fence is high enough." He said it was possible for bits of cars to fly off and travel a long way. The safety fencing at the Albert Park circuit for this year's race, during which marshal Graham Beveridge was killed, was largely 2.5metres high. Mr Dohrmann said: "A five-metre-high fence seems to me to provide much more protection." He added that a higher fence was potentially less stable, although this could be remedied with appropriate measures, such as railway sleepers attached to concrete blocks at the base of the fence. He criticised the access holes in the fencing. Mr Beveridge was standing near one of these holes when he was struck and killed by a flying racing car wheel. Mr Dohrmann said there should never be such openings, especially at head height, as there were other, safer, ways of allowing race officials access to the track in the event of an accident. He also told the inquest that, ideally, the mesh of the safety fence should be smaller. Smaller holes would reduce the size of particles being forced through a fence after an incident on the track. Mr Dohrmann likened such airborne particles to shrapnel. Discussing spectators at the Albert Park circuit, Mr Dohrmann suggested they were at risk under the existing circuit lay-out. He said measures that could be taken to increase spectator safety included reducing the size of the mesh in the fencing, erecting a transparent barrier between spectators and the track, and placing the spectators further back. In other evidence yesterday, an Australian motor sport official described the sequence of events after the two-car collision on the fifth lap of the race. Bruce Keys, an assistant secretary of the Grand Prix meeting, said that after an ambulance was sent to the accident scene race officials considered a range of responses to what soon appeared likely to be a fatality. These included stopping the race, although this raised problems involving management of the crowd. Mr Keys said that once officials had been informed of Mr Beveridge's death, steps were taken to deal appropriately with other marshals and also Mr Beveridge's family. Mr Beveridge's daughter, Kelley, was at the circuit. She was located and offered care and counselling. Attention was then given to "welfare issues" regarding the Beveridge family. Giving evidence in a video-link from Sydney, a vice-president of the peak motor sport body, the FIA, described the incident that resulted in Mr Beveridge's death as "a freakish situation". John Large, a past-president of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, said he could not imagine the situation of a racing car wheel coming loose and forcing itself through a horizontal access hole in the safety fence being replicated "in 500 years". The inquest, before State Coroner Graeme Johnstone, continues today.