Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

How Romain Grosjean survived the biggest crash in modern F1 history

Romain Grosjean's fiery crash during the Bahrain Grand Prix was reminiscent of the accidents that blighted Formula 1 during the 1970s. That the Frenchman was able to escape with minor injuries has been called a miracle, but it has more to do with motor sport’s exhaustive pursuit of safety than divine intervention. Grosjean perhaps owes his life to decades of incremental safety improvements and new technologies that have been introduced into the sport.

The accident occurred on the opening lap of the race, when Haas driver Grosjean veered across the straight that runs between turns 3 and 4. In doing so he clipped the oncoming car of Daniil Kvyat and was sent off the circuit towards the barriers.

What followed was perhaps the most shocking scene in recent Formula 1 history. The Haas car struck the barrier at a sharp angle while travelling at 137mph (221km/h). This appears to have resulted in the barrier being split open and the front of the car becoming wedged within it. While the precise reason for this failure is yet to be determined it is highly concerning, placing not only the driver but trackside workers in extreme danger.

"[The sport’s governing body] the FIA uses advanced simulation packages to model the potential impacts, impact angles, and the likelihood of those angles occurring," explains long-time motorsport engineer Sam Collins. "The barrier that Grosjean hit wasn't running parallel to the track; it was at an angle because the simulation package identified that positioning."

While the monocoque – the carbon fibre shell around the driver – was trapped within the barrier, the rear of the car broke off and was thrown clear. This in itself is not a cause for alarm: Collins explains that the front and rear segments of a Formula 1 car are designed to break apart if necessary to protect the driver's safety cell.

The failure that led to the fire is a far greater issue. The lines carrying fuel and other liquids use ‘dry break’ connections, which should seal when disconnected by the car splitting in two. This was evidently not the case on Sunday and led to Grosjean's Haas becoming engulfed in flames.

Most PopularGear33 Great Deals From Amazon’s Big Spring Sale

Louryn Strampe

GearThe Best Cheap Electric Bikes Under $2000

Adrienne So

GearThe Best Laptop Totes for Work and Weekends

Medea Giordano

Gear7 Ways the Apple Antitrust Case Could Change Your iPhone

Simon Hill

"The fire will be the real focus for the FIA," says Collins. "It looks to me like it was fuel burning; the question is, was it from the fuel line, which would be surprising, or was there some kind of failure to the fuel tank itself?"

The latter is, understandably, subject to rigorous safety standards. Manufactured from Kevlar and rubber, it is tested to extremes to prevent the kind of fire that we saw on Sunday afternoon. This, along with the barrier failure, will be key topics for the post-crash investigation.

As shocking as the crash itself was the fact that Grosjean was able to remove himself from the car, leap a guardrail and dash to safety. John Watson, a five-time Formula 1 race winner who drove during the seventies and eighties, was struck by how the Frenchman emerged so quickly from such a violent accident.

"After going through the barrier and finding yourself in a fireball, to have the presence of mind to be able to release yourself and clamber out of the chassis, which is burning very aggressively around you, is truly remarkable," says Watson.

The presence of the halo safety device, a curved titanium bar fitted over the cockpit directly in front of the driver, has been credited with saving Grosjean's life. This controversial feature was pushed through by FIA president Jean Todt in 2018, primarily to protect the driver from loose wheels and other debris. Images showing the car buried in the barrier suggest that it withstood an impact that would otherwise have been absorbed by the driver's crash helmet.

"I was not a halo fan, per se, but I saw its benefit yesterday in the most graphic fashion possible," says Watson. "That, in conjunction with the design and manufacturing integrity of a Formula 1 chassis, is how Grosjean survived."

Alex Brundle, a professional racing driver who was commentating on Sunday's grand prix for F1TV, adds that the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device, mandatory in Formula 1 since 2003, also played a major role.

"Given the angle of the impact, I would suggest that head restraints have come on hugely," says Brundle. "The HANS device prevents the kind of incidents we used to have where drivers suffered horrible injuries to their back and neck [basilar skull fractures]. Without it Romain's life would have been threatened by the initial impact and he'd also have been prevented from escaping the eventual fire."

In the blaze, Grosjean was protected by flame-resistant Nomex clothing, which allowed him to spend several seconds within the fire while suffering only minor burns to his hands and ankles. This aspect of F1 safety can be traced back to Niki Lauda's crash in 1976, as well as the deaths of Piers Courage and Roger Williamson during the same decade. In this respect the sport has come a long way since the 1950s, when drivers eschewed seatbelts as they preferred to be thrown clear of the car in case of a fire.

Grosjean's crash was in many respects a freak accident. Cars are not expected to go off at that part of the Bahrain circuit, nor was it anticipated that he would break through the barrier, or that a fire would erupt. So often in F1's past, a sequence of unforeseen circumstances has led to fatality. That it did not on Sunday speaks to the work that began in earnest with the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994.

The sport’s reaction will be of great interest, too. History tells us that Formula 1’s biggest safety campaigns follow fatal accidents. This time, Collins believes that it will act with the same determination even though the driver walked away without serious injury.

“There are serious lessons to learn from this and I think that Formula 1 will react accordingly, he says. “It’s going to be really interesting, because it will change the design of the next generation of cars and that’s a really fascinating technical challenge.”

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

Popular Articles