Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sensationalism fails to tell the true story

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I'm at my office desk in Whistler, in what my advanced driving team refers to as World Headquarters.

This is the very simple cubicle from which Sidorov Advanced Driver Training is managed, my racing schedule is set, and most articles are written. In about an hour I'll trade keyboard for skis and head for Blackcomb Mountain.

At this time, seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is still in an induced coma following a skiing crash. On his side is the fact he was wearing a helmet, he has always been extremely fit and he is at a top-notch hospital in France. Against him is the complicated nature of any head injury.

CBC's Paul Hunter did an initial report on Schumacher's injury and showed a distinct lack of both knowledge and understanding. He went at the story as though he were dealing with an amateur, not a professional, and there is a huge difference. The expression "need for speed" has become pervasive in today's culture, but again applies to amateurs or Xbox players, not professionals.

A skilled racing driver tries to create a performance state where thinking is actually working faster than the vehicle is travelling. In racing schools we often tell students "If it feels fast, it's wrong." Some never understand this, they want the adrenaline buzz, but once more this is the amateur's approach. People who are good in high-risk situations are able to limit the level of adrenaline build-up, because beyond a certain point the fight-or-flight business becomes dangerous and the enemy of performance.

Mr. Hunter compounded the inaccuracy of his reporting by interviewing someone at a German go-kart track, who said those who are exposed to danger consistently stop noticing it. At the risk of hammering the point into the ground, this is amateur territory. On this subject I can safely speak for any of the top racing drivers. A major part of the job is risk assessment. You try not to get into situations that require huge steps into the unknown; that's just rolling the dice and hoping for the best. Hope and hospital share a page in most dictionaries.

Despite early, sensationalist reporting that Schumacher was skiing at high speed, that turns out not to be the case. He had just stopped to help a friend who had fallen. When he crossed an expanse of powder, he hit a hidden rock. It really could happen to any one of us.

In avalanche fatalities, the most common comment is the person was experienced and cautious. Experience is a double-edged sword and can lead to dangerous assumptions. Beyond that, nobody is cautious all the time. To be properly careful, awareness and attitude have to match the situation and we all have lapses. That is why I groan inwardly when someone tells me they are always a good driver. You may try to be one. However, it is highly unlikely you will be a good driver 100 per cent of the time. It is a worthwhile goal but very hard to achieve.

Best wishes to Michael for a complete recovery. I don't expect Paul Hunter to issue a correction or retraction; the CBC Mother Ship does tend towards self-satisfied on occasion. I'm off to ski a couple of double black diamond runs and they will be challenging. My life, on track, mountain and elsewhere, involves risk management, not complete avoidance. That would require, at the least, being swaddled in foam rubber and transported by armoured car. I'll be careful, well aware that none of us is bulletproof.

"It can't happen to me" is delusion, not risk management.

Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 F4

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