30 Nov 2020

GROSJEAN CRASH REMINDS US THAT THE RACE FOR SAFETY HAS NO CHEQUERED FLAG

Over the years since the death of Ayrton Senna we have been periodically reminded of the dangers participating in motorsport, but yesterday’s events at the Bahrain International Circuit were particularly stark.

The race got off to a clean start with Lewis Hamilton streaking off the line while his teammate was suffering from a lack of pick up and was quickly swallowed up by the pack. Without any time for the drivers to settle into a race rhythm, Romain Grosjean collided with Danny Kyvat while trying to pass his Haas teammate, Kevin Magnusson at the innocuous turn 3.

Grosjean exited the circuit and colliding with the Armco barrier, hitting it at 140 mph generating over 50G of force on the driver’s body. In an ill twist of fate, the car pierced the barrier between two longitudinal sections like an axe splitting wood. The force of the crash completely tore the car in two, rupturing the fuel cell, with the engine compartment and rear of the car coming to rest on the track side of the barrier and the front of the car up to the driver’s safety cell ablaze and still entangled in the Armco.

The FIA medical car was quickly on the scene and Dr Ian Roberts and driver Alan van der Merve immediately took control assisting the marshals tackling the fire while the race was red flagged.

At this point Grosjean had not emerged from the car and concern grew as the blaze persisted for over 20 seconds before we saw the French driver emerge from the cockpit and helped over the barrier by Roberts and van der Merve. Much was made of Grosjean’s good fortune to survive the horrific crash with many commenting that had he not remained conscious in the car or the accident taken place later in the lap with the medical team arriving later on the scene it could have tragically been so different.

That said the real life save was clearly the Halo device fitted to the car which undoubtedly protected the driver from a fatal head injury when the car broke through the barrier.

The nature of the accident will now force a thorough investigation by the FIA where the performance of the car’s safety cell and the Armco barrier will be scrutinised.

Grosjean was taken to the medical centre for initial assessment and then flown to Bahrain’s Defence Force Hospital for treatment to his injuries. Later in the day an official statement from the Hass team explained that Grosjean had sustained burns to his hands but miraculously suffered no other injuries.

With Grosjean safely out of the car and in the hands of the medical team an eerie calm descended over the pit lane. The teams resumed race preparation mode while the drivers took time to reflect on the accident and gather their own personal thoughts with the restart looming.

After nearly an hour-long stoppage, during which time the wreckage was cleared and the barrier replaced with concrete blocks, the cars lined up on the grid for a static restart in the order they were in when the red flag was raised.

No sooner had the race restarted with Hamilton showing the grid a clean pair of heels for a second time than the safety car was deployed following Lance Stroll’s Racing Point being pitched into the air by Kvyat and landing upside down. The driver emerged unhurt and once the car was cleared the race resumed for a third time of asking on lap 9.

From this point onwards the race was somewhat uneventful with Hamilton in supreme control throughout. Max Verstappen had been the best of the rest all day and was comfortable in P2 with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez on course for a well-earned P3 until an engine failure caused him to retire just 3 laps from home. This promoted Alex Albon, under huge pressure to deliver a result, onto the podium with the race concluding under the safety car.

The Racing Point retirement was a massive boost for Renault and McLaren’s aspirations for 3rd place in the constructor’s championship with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz promoted to fourth and fifth, and the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to seventh and ninth.

Hamilton said after the race he struggled with tyre management and felt under pressure from Verstappen, while the dutchman took a swipe at his Red Bull team, suggesting they could have made a better job of his race strategy saying “We had the tyres to put them under more pressure today, but we didn’t do it. I don’t know why we were so conservative.”

For the next race we stay in Bahrain for the Sakhir Grand Prix which will use the outer perimeter section creating a short loop. It’s unlikely Romain Grosjean will be in the car for that race so we wish him well in his recovery.

JDC is looking forward to welcoming everyone back to Formula 1 in 2021 for what is expected to be a very exciting and closely run season. If you’d like to experience any of the races on the 2021 calendar, then take a look at our Paddock Club™ hospitality packages or contact JDC Promotions and let us build a bespoke package for you and your guests.

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ianhucklesby

Editor-in-Residence, JDC Promotions Media Centre