Haas Formula One driver, Romain Grosjean survived a horrific crash at last weekend F1 Bahrain grand prix in a race that was characterized by one red flag and two safety car deployments. The incident was triggered by mid section slow-starting cars in front of him resulting in cars tripping over each other. The French Haas driver saw an opportunity to try and pass the cars in front of him by utilizing the space on the far right. The move was supposed to bear some fruits but unfortunately while in execution resulted in his car hitting AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat front wheel and veered off the race track crashing into a nearby barrier. What is astonishing is that Grosjean’s accident happened on a straight section of the track just after turn two and resulting in a massive fire ball with the Haas machinery split into two nearly unrecognizable pieces. There are several things that one needs to consider leading to this horrific accident and the miraculous survival of the Haas driver.
The weight and speed of Haas F1 car
When the F1 race track lights went out signaling to the drivers that the race was underway, the cars were approximately traveling at 220km/hr after turns one and two at the Bahrain Circuit. This shows that Grosjean was traveling at very enormous speed, but that is no joke to an F1 car which can reach speeds well over 300km/hr. Considering that the minimum weight for an F1 car is around 746kg, but if you add on 100kilos of fuel, and other fluids like engine oil, brake fluids, hydraulics etc, so this could be well over 850kg. Having a car of this mass, traveling at enormous speeds, the energy that is dissipated upon impact on a barrier is likely to result in huge crash. What is surprising is that the barriers were angled towards the road acting as service access roads for emergency and recovery vehicles.
F1 Race specific barriers
The Bahrain Circuit has F1 race specific Armco three layered barriers as the FIA circuits requirements. It is believed the barrier has been in place around the circuit for about sixteen years since the inception of the track in the F1 calendar. This particular F1 venue is well maintained and has got the best Marshals looking after it. By looking at the aftermath of the incident, the barrier was ripped apart and in some way succumbed to the energy that was involved. In some circuits, tyre barriers are used to significantly soften impacts in a safer manner but sometimes cars bury a long way into these as it was once witnessed with Bottas in Mexico in 2019 and Sainz in Sochi in 2015. All these solutions are usually placed at heavy braking zones and corners but once again Grosjean incident occurred in a straight section of the circuit. Whatever the barriers are put in place to minimize or sustain the impact but they can never be 100 percent.
Safety devices in an F1 car
It is no doubt that the combination of safety devices in the F1 car (Haas in this case) played a major role in saving Grosjean’s life. First and foremost, an F1 car is fitted with a number of safety devices, most recent is the HALO safety system, a curved titanium bar installed in a racing car to protect the drivers head. The system was first made mandatory by the FIA in 2018, for all the racing car series (F1,F2, F3 etc) and its capable of supporting a 12 ton weight. Secondly, is the survival cell which was found intact after the incident and the driver had no broken bones, especially arms and legs. The chassis, HALO and rollover hoop were subjected to enormous forces in arresting the car but at the same time protecting the driver. The fact that Grosjean was still conscious after the crash saved his dear life.
Fire resistant devices
The cause of fire is largely inconclusive but we all know that the ERS (energy reduction system) battery and the load of fuel that the hybrid F1 cars carry around could be the cause of the huge fire ball that engulfed the chassis. By the time the car exploded, (immediately after the crash), its was ripped into two pieces, engine with the rear wheels and the other piece where the driver was seated. The FIA demands that driver overalls, shoes, socks, gloves must be constructed with fire resistant material which somehow played their role. Clearing the head rest, radio cables, drinks tubes while wearing a crash helmet is a toll order, especially after a terrific crash with damaged parts and surrounded by a huge ball of fire. Survival skills and simulations that the drivers normally undertake paid a significant part in terms of time and correct execution.
Response by the F1 Medical team and Marshals
The medical car which normally starts at the back of the grid arrived well on time at the scene of the incident to play their part. The occupants, Alan van der Merwe (medical car driver) and Dr Ian Roberts (FIA doctor) jumped onto action immediately. Van der Merwe grabbed a fire extinguisher which he used to put off the flames from the emerging Grosjean while Dr Roberts helped the driver out of the raging flames and over the barriers. The Bahrain circuit marshals contributed significantly by creating a protective cell around the cockpit area to put up the flames. A commendable and brave act by both the medical team and the marshals.
Learnings from the incident
Once again congratulations to the FIA for the high safety standards in F1 racing cars and response teams, creating and introducing HALO and safety cell devices in the sport. The highest quality engineering associated with all these devices will continue to safe lives in similar incidents but improvements are highly anticipated. Again fire resistant driver overalls, shoes, socks, boots and gloves are well protective gear that is well thought by FIA management. It is important for the FIA to conduct a thorough incident investigation and share findings with the rest of the world. This will help the sport improve the safety standards to another level and make it more appealing. Once again well wishes to Romain Grosjean and a speedy recovery, we hope the Haas team remains supportive to him and the rest of the world. By the way, Romain Grosjean only sustained minor burns on his hands and ankles no major injuries reported.