ZOLDER, Belgium -- The horrifying crash that snapped the life from race driver Gilles Villeneuve prompted an inquiry into Formula One racing regulations Sunday and promises of new safety measures.
Drivers said the attention to safety was long overdue.
The death of the enormously popular Canadian racer overshadowed the running of the Belgian Grand Prix Sunday as the sport's governing body met in special session and its safety inspection branch began an inquiry into the accident.
Arrangements were being made to fly Villeneuve's body home for burial at his hometown of Berthierville, Quebec. But it was not expected that those arrangements, which include the standard police investigation, would be completed before Tuesday.
Villeneuve's widow Joanne and former world driving champion Jody Scheckter, his erstwhile Ferrari teammate and friend, were to accompany the body.
Jean-Marie Balestre, President of the International Automobile Sport Federation (FISA), Sunday announced an extraordinary executive committee meeting 'to take a certain number of new measures required by safety.'
Derek Ongaro, the FISA safety inspector, is also conducting an inquiry into the accident.
The Canadian's French teammate Didier Pironi, who is also President of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, was quick to link technical developments in car-building and the constant warring betweeen Formula One factions over the past two years for Villeneuve's death - the first of a driver at a Grand Prix for almost four years.
'Before the introduction of ground-effect skirts, the cars used to take the bend where Gilles was killed at 180 kph (110 mph),' Pironi said. 'Saturday, we were going through at 250 or 260 kph (155-160 mph).'
'Those responsible are the people who make the rules and those who enforce them,' Pironi added. 'Unfortunately, the conflicts of interest in Formula One are stronger than any notion of safety.'
Double world champion Niki Lauda of Austria, who finished third in Sunday's race behind McLaren teammate John Watson of Britain and the Williams of Finland's Keke Rosberg, disagreed.
'I think it was just a racing accident,' he said.
Villeneuve died in hospital at Louvain Saturday night from head and neck injuries received in the crash, which happened when his Ferrari clipped the rear of a slower car during the closing minutes of practice for Sunday's race.
It was launched into the air, cartwheeled, and catapulted the French-Canadian driver into catch fencing. Villeneuve died later at the St. Raphael clinic, although doctors did not pronounce him dead until his wife had arrived from their home in Monte Carlo.
Two hours before the news of Villeneuve's death was confirmed, the Ferrari team pulled out of the Grand Prix, had packed up and was on the road back to Italy.
Fellow-racing drivers praised Villeneuve as a daring but brilliant competitor. World championship leader Alain Prost of France said Villeneuve had been a good friend 'and the fact of having seen him after the accident deeply shocked and disturbed me.
'Until then, Gilles had had a lot of luck in his accidents. You thought that nothing could happen to him,' Prost added.
Another Frenchman, Jacques Laffite, called motor racing a 'sordid game' but added that it was the life Villeneuve had chosen.
'The saddest part is for his wife and two children,' Laffite said. 'I liked Gilles Villeneuve's temperament and the way he drove. He always did extraordinary things with his car. It's perhaps hard to say it like that, but I think that his way of driving could perhaps have been the cause of his accident.'