There has not been a fatal crash in an F1 race since the brilliant Ayrton Senna was killed while leading in his Williams in the San Marino Grand Prix, back in 1994. Before then, the sport had always been regarded as one of the most dangerous in the world where a more derring-do philosophy was required by the drivers as winning races was not anywhere near being being dependent.
It is surprising therefore to see that only one other driver, Jochen Rindt of Austria has actually been killed when driving in or practicing for a F1 Grand Prix. Gilles Villenueve was a regular winner of F1 races but his best ever finish in a world championship was 2nd in 1979; the Canadian was killed when qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982. His son, Jacques Villenueve however did win the title in 1997, some 15 years after his father's death. Nonetheless it remains surprising as to how many former champions met their deaths prematurely.
Other drivers who died well before their time were Englishmen, Mike Hawthorne, Graham Hill and James Hunt, Scotsman, Jim Clark and Italian, Alberto Ascari. Of all these world champions, only James Hunt died when not at the wheel of a vehicle or airplane.
Alberto Ascari – Dual world F1 champion in 1952 and 1953, Ascari is only one of two Italian world champions and the only one to win both titles while driving for Ferrari. The eerie death of this great champion in 1955 is still talked about in Italy today due to it uncanny similarity to the death of his father, who was also a racing driver. With the 1955 season underway, Ascari had a very bad accident at the Monaco Grand Prix, where his car crashed into the harbor. Four days later and just about recovered Ascari was offered the chance of a fun ride in the new Ferrari 750 Monza Sports at Monza. Coming round a dangerous curve on the third lap of his 'fun drive' the car skidded, somersaulted and threw Ascari from the car where he died a few minutes later. It was the 26th March 1955 and Ascari was just 36 years old, the same age when when his father died on 26th July 1925 in a very similar crash at the same left hand bend at Monza. They both were driving cars with number 26, they had both won 13 Grand Prix's and both left behind a wife and two children.
Mike Hawthorne – Hawthorne was world champion in 1958 and was the first Briton to win the title. He broke for Ferrari. The year he won the title he actually only won one race against the four wins of fellow 'Brit' Stirling Moss, he ended up taking the title by just one point from Moss, but admitted that his victory was due to the intervening of Moss on Hawthorne's successor which preverted Hawthorne from being disqualified in the Portuguese Grand Prix. He retired from F1 that season primarily to convalesce from an operation he had in 1955 which cost him a kidney and was not expected to live for too many more years. However he died the following year aged 29 after a road traffic accident on the A3 near Guildford.
Jim Clark – Twice world champion in 1963 and 1965, who at the time of his death in 1968 had won more Grand Prix's (25) and achieved more pole positions (33) than any other driver and is considered by many as the greatest F1 Driver of all time. He died in a F2 race at the Hockenheimring in Germany in 1968 after his car came off the track and into a clump of trees. Clark died on his way to hospital after sustaining a broken neck amongst many other injuries. His Lotus team mate, Graham Hill went on to win the world title that year, dedicating his win to his great friend.
Graham Hill – Twice world champion in 1962 and 1968, Hill drove for Lotus and was renamed for his huge personality and equally huge ego. Nonetheless he was an extremely popular and respected driver; he is the only driver in history for instance to win Motor Racing's triple crown of the Indianapolis, Le Mans 24 and the F1 World Championship. For many years he was known as the 'King of Monaco' after winning the race five times. His death came in 1975, when aged 46 after the plane he was flying crashed in foggy conditions on the Arkley Golf Course in North London.
Jochen Rindt – World F1 champion in 1970 when driving for Lotus, this exceptionally quick driver is one of only two world champions to actually killed while in practice for a Grand Prix. His death came after he had won five of the ten Grand Prix's in the 1972 season which had given him a huge lead to win his second title. Whilst practicing on the second day for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Rindt's car swerved sharp left into a crash barrier which parted on impact resulting in the car crashing into a stanchion head on. He was pronounced dead at hospital soon after.
James Hunt – World champion in 1976 when lead driver for McLaren, Hunt won a total of ten Grand Prix's in his six year career, which saw him retire in 1979. He became a very popular commentator with the BBC which helped popularize the sport considering in Britain. Hunt died in 1993 aged 45 following a heart attack at home in London.
Ayrton Senna – The last and only world champion to be killed whilst actually racing in a Grand Prix. Senna won the F1 World Championship three times when driver in partnership with great rival, Alain Prost for the McLaren team. He is considered as the best driver of all time according to a poll taken from past F1 Drivers. After his successful period with McLaren Senna moved to the Williams team for the 1994 season but sadly came to grief in the third race, the San Marino Grand Prix when in front. His car came off the track hitting a concrete wall at 135 mph. Senna was treated at the side of the track but after arriving at hospital he was pronounced dead