Despite Lewis Hamilton securing yet another seemingly routine victory on Sunday at the Bahrain Grand Prix, despite the disappointment of Sergio Perez suffering the heartbreak of losing a podium finish as his engine failed with just three laps to go, only one thing mattered on Sunday; that Haas driver Romain Grosjean was still alive.
The scenes at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix were harrowing. Not since the tragic accident of Jules Bianchi in 2014, (the last time a Formula 1 driver sadly lost their life,) had the risks the 20 drivers take stepping behind the wheel of the car been so brutally on display. Never in the history of Formula 1 has there been an accident quite like it.
On lap 1 of the race, barely passed the third corner, Grosjean seemed to slide across the track at high speed, making contact with the front of Danil Kvyat’s Alpha Tauri, before smashing through a barrier at 137mph, with an impact measured at a force of 53G. The impact was so hard that it split his car in two, the entire front section of the car where Grosjean was still seated going up in flames.
F1 drivers have to prove in test conditions that they can exit a vehicle within 10 seconds if the car catches fire. Nothing though, could’ve prepared Grosjean for this. The fact that he was conscious and able to get himself out of the inferno in just under 30 seconds is quite frankly a miracle.
Not since the Monaco Grand Prix in 1991 has a Formula 1 car split in half. The last time a car caught fire in a crash was at Imola in 1989.
Grosjean not only surviving such a horrific crash, but managing to only walk away with burns to his hands and ankles means lady luck was shining down upon him. However, it is also testament to the safety work put in by those within the sport.
Medical car driver Alan Van der Merwe and the FIA doctor Dr Ian Roberts have quite rightly been painted as heroes for their quick thinking, racing from their support vehicle that follows the drivers for the opening half of the first lap of the race and running straight towards the inferno, helping Grosjean to jump to safety from the wreckage. As Van der Merwe pointed out on Twitter, they were ”standing on the shoulders of giants like Charlie (Whiting) and Sid (Watkins.)” Two men who’s legacies, even after their passing, meant that Grosjean walked away from such a horrific incident.
Ultimately, the piece of technology that saved Grosjean’s life, as his car violently crashed into the barriers at the side of the track, was the halo. As fellow driver George Russell put it, ”any debate about the halo ends tonight.”
The halo in question, is a piece of titanium, that is attached to the cockpit structure at three points, one either side of the drivers head and one in front. First introduced in 2018, there is no doubt that its presence saved Grosjean’s life. Without it, his head would’ve most likely been at the mercy of the speed his car was carrying, as it embedded itself into the barrier.
Grosjean himself was one of many drivers initially sceptical of the halo when it was first introduced, mainly due to the perceived ugliness of the device. His accident though and his miraculous survival has surely ended the debate forever. Indeed, Grosjean from his hospital bed admitted that ”it’s the greatest thing that we brought to Formula 1 and without it [he] wouldn’t be able to speak to you today.”
Formula 1 is a dangerous sport. It’s that high speed and that risk that draws so many in. The drivers know what risk they are putting themselves under every time they set foot behind the wheel. It’s moments like that on Sunday that serve to highlight that risk. The fact Grosjean is still alive, let alone only suffering burns to his hands and ankles is incredible. However, it also serves to highlight the amazing safety measures that the sport has in place. Without these, we would’ve lost someone far too soon.