Byline: JEREMY CALVERT
A TOP safety official has been accused of failing to investigate a serious accident in the 1996 Australian Grand Prix at the same part of the circuit a marshal was killed this year.
Bruce Keys, manager of safety services for the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, told Melbourne Coroners' Court the 1996 accident involving Formula One driver Martin Brundle had not been investigated because no one was injured.
The accident, replayed to the court on video, was similar to an accident between Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda and a Williams driven by Ralf Schumacher in this year's event. This year's accident caused the death of marshal Graham Beveridge when a wheel passed through a gap in a debris fence.
Mr Keys, appearing as a witness at the inquest on Mr Beveridge, said he could not remember any official discussion of the accident on lap one of the 1996 event when Brundle's airborne car was destroyed after slamming into a concrete wall at turn three.
Mr Keys admitted the accident did sound warning bells, but said no changes were made to the circuit because of it.
Counsel assisting the coroner, Jim Kennan, SC, described it as incredible and extraordinary that the accident didn't spark an official investigation.
Mr Keys, who told the court he had never received any safety training or attended any safety courses, agreed that event management had been incorrect to dismiss the safety risks posed by turn three of the Albert Park circuit.
The Coroner's Court was transformed into a temporary garage yesterday, as the twisted wreckage from Villeneuve's BAR-Honda was pieced together to explain the failure of safety tethers designed to stop wheels separating from the car in an accident.
The court heard that although the BAR-Honda met international standards requiring wheel tethers capable of withstanding 500 tonnes of pressure, three of the four wheels were detached in the 250km/h accident with Ralf Schumacher.
BAR technical director Malcolm Oastler conceded there had been design problems with the safety tethers that had been changed because of the accident in Melbourne.
However, Mr Oastler said nothing could have stopped the wheel that killed Mr Beveridge being sheared from Villeneuve's car when it jammed through a gap in the fence.
The inquest before State Coroner Graeme Johnstone continues.