The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association was formed in 1961 with the aim of safeguarding the interests of the drivers along with ensuring the well-being of the drivers by monitoring race conditions, car safety and other key components that were crucial in protecting the drivers and the spectators. The association was the common voice of the drivers to the management of the sport and usually had a membership for almost everyone on the grid. It was disbanded in 1982 and only became active again in 1994.
1994 was a year of turmoil for F1 racing. The third race of the calendar in San Marino witnessed the tragic deaths of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying and Ayrton Senna, the darling of the sport and the 3 time World Champion during the race. An accident for Rubens Barrichello and injuries to mechanics and spectators also marred the weekend.
Following major concerns, the GPDA was reformed at the next race in Monaco by Nikki Lauda with Schumacher being named as the chairman of the re-established association. He served as the chairman for next 11 years, which is by far the longest tenure till date.
The association collaborated with the FIA to undertake a number of key measures to improve racing conditions. Some of these include ensuring larger run-off areas in all the new circuits formed, removal of walls at certain races, improving pitlane entrances, reduction of extremely high-speed corners amongst others.
All these measures greatly improved the safety of drivers and we did not witness another death in Formula 1 till 2014. Schumacher, president till 2005 of the association, was at the forefront of all these measures. He might not have been extremely popular with his colleagues given his desire to win at all costs (and often disregarding certain rules in the process) but they all trusted him in having their voices heard at the right forums. This can be ascertained by the fact the drivers themselves chose their representatives to interact with the FIA from the association members.
When Schumacher rejoined the sport in 2010, he did not join the GPDA as an active member but as a silent one after discussions with his former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa – who was one of the directors of the association at that time.
Today, the GDPA fights have a “halo cockpit” implemented in all cars in order to improve head safety in cars following Jules Bianchi’s death owing to multiple head injuries suffered at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.