Byline: ALAN ATTWOOD
There have been few vacant seats this week at the coronial inquest on trackside marshal Graham Beveridge who was killed at this year's Australian formula one Grand Prix at Albert Park. Mr Beveridge's family has been there every day. Senior executives from the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation have also been present. But there is one notable absentee: the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the world governing body of motor sport and the administrator of the formula one world championship. After three days of hearings it effectively severed all formal links with the inquest by withdrawing its instructions to local lawyers to act on its behalf. Not only is the FIA now not represented at the inquest, it seems clear that it has provided only minimal cooperation with people investigating the first fatality in the Albert Park race. It has indicated that its own appointee, Charlie Whiting, described in this year's Grand Prix program as "race director, safety delegate and permanent starter" - will neither appear in person at the inquest nor give evidence by video. The FIA is based in Geneva, though it also has an office in London, where it is believed Mr Whiting is based. The state coroner, Graeme Johnstone, does not have the power to enforce a subpoena served on officials based overseas. But yesterday morning Mr Johnstone told the court that he "may have to be critical of the FIA's management of safety issues". Addressing Ross Ray, QC - counsel for CAMS, the Grand Prix corporation and, until recently, the FIA - Mr Johnstone suggested that he should try to advise his former client that "it needs to be aware that it is at risk of criticism". He added that he would be happy to receive submissions from the organisation during the remainder of the inquest. It is believed that lawyers involved with the inquest, and also police investigating the race incident, have been frustrated by the FIA's lack of assistance. This is somewhat surprising, as the association's president, Max Mosley, has been outspoken in the past on safety issues, particularly the safety of racing drivers. The association has a safety commission and also convenes a world motor sport council, which lists as one of its top priorities: "To promote continuously improving safety standards in all forms of motor sport." Australia's representative on the FIA is John Large, a former president of CAMS. He is a member of the FIA's eight-member senate and its motor sport council. Mr Large has apparently agreed to give evidence to the inquest. But the unavailability of Mr Whiting is a problem, as his position as safety delegate is relevant to the matter under investigation. In evidence at the inquest yesterday, two men positioned at the section of the circuit where Mr Beveridge was killed described events after the two-car collision during the fifth lap of the race. An experienced motor-sport marshal, Roy Haigh, recounted how he had been positioned on turn three of the circuit, about eight metres from Mr Beveridge. He said he had heard "a loud noise, like an explosion" and then saw a distorted wheel, flat and on its side, airborne at high speed in the marshals' zone. It had struck Mr Beveridge and tossed him into the air. Mr Haigh said he had called out "Marshal down!" and then tried to contact race control. "I can't explain how fast it was coming," Mr Haigh said of the wheel, which broke free from one of the racing cars on impact with a wall. "We were all ducking for cover - it was coming incredibly fast." A police officer on duty at the track, Senior Sergeant Paul McBride, said that after seeing a cloud of dust and a prone marshal receiving medical attention he had noticed that the safety fence had been damaged by the accident. He was "not confident of its integrity" for the duration of the race. The inquest continues on Monday.