Grosjean’s double escape
Grosjean triggered the accident by darting right under hard acceleration out of Turn 3, clipping the AlphaTauri of blameless Daniil Kvyat and sending the Haas on a direct collision course with a naked steel barrier protecting a circuit access point for recovery vehicles. The car tore through the middle of the barrier in an impact that could have ripped through Grosjean’s upper body and head, and it’s likely the so-called ‘halo’ cockpit safety bars saved him from grisly injuries. That was the first deliverance.
The second was his escape from the raging explosion and fire that was triggered by the impact, which was so extreme it ripped the whole rear of the car clean from the chassis and sent the front wheels from their Zylon tethers, designed to withstand a monumental tensile force of 70kN in any direction. Fire is so rare these days in F1 accidents thanks to the huge advances in fuel cell strength and it siting within the heart of the car – but in this instance the cell was exposed. Seconds passed as marshals, recovering from the initial shock of what had just happened and their own narrow escape, approached the scene with fire extinguishers. Then as Dr Roberts rushed from the medical car, the smouldering figure of Grosjean emerged from the blaze. It was pure dumb luck that the chassis had embedded sideways into the barrier, allowing him clear access from the cockpit. Missing a boot, he staggered from the scene into Dr Roberts arms as van der Merwe sprayed extinguishant at them both to douse any lingering flames. Grosjean escaped with burns to his hands.
The inquest now begins, and as always from every accident there will be lessons to be digested and acted upon. Expect the investigation to be both thorough and swift as the FIA responds to an alarming set of circumstances no one could have predicted. The cars are already many times more safe than they used to be, as are the circuits F1 races on. This is a relatively modern, state-of-the-art facility, well established as an annual venue for F1 – not one of the new or returning tracks used this season. But even here such a thing could happen. The use of unprotected steel barriers, even on sections of track not usually the scene of accidents, will now surely come under particular scrutiny.
But for Grosjean, who was already facing a likely conclusion to his F1 career at the end of 2020, all that matters right now is he can return safe and remarkably well to his wife and three children. Had this accident occurred even five years ago, before the halo was made mandatory in 2018, that probably wouldn’t be the case. “I wasn’t for the halo some years ago but I think it’s the greatest thing we’ve brought to F1 and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today,” he said from his hospital bed on Sunday night.