There is no doubt: just a few years ago Romain Grosjean would have lost his life in an accident like the one on November 29, 2020. There were five main factors that saved him.
The perfidious thing then: The car was forced through two guardrails, the rear part of the car was torn from the survival cell, creating a huge ball of fire. To be precise, the car penetrated between the first and second floors of the three-story guardrail. The car sanded through the rails and was then torn apart on a mounting post, fuel leaked from torn lines, a ball of fire rose – the rear part of the car remained in front of the guardrails, the front axle and nose were crushed by the impact energy, the survival cell remained in the guardrails stuck.
Grosjean sat in the flames for around 25 seconds, racing suit and overalls are designed to withstand such a fire for at least a minute. The man from Geneva crawled out of the car himself and threw himself into the arms of the approaching racing doctor Ian Roberts, ex-racing driver Alan van der Merwe, driver of the Roberts medical car, was there with a fire extinguisher.
The legacy of Jules Bianchi
The fact that Romain Grosjean survived in Bahrain can also be traced back to Jules Bianchi’s serious accident in Suzuka in 2014. The southern Frenchman got off the track on a wet track at the Japanese Grand Prix and crashed into the crane truck that had set out to drag Adrian Sutil’s broken-down racing car away. Bianchi fell into a deep coma from which he could not wake up, in the summer of 2015 his heart stopped beating.
My colleague Julien Fabreau commented on the Bahrain Grand Prix on November 29th for the pay channel Canal +. Suddenly he burst into tears. The reason: He had received a message from Christine Bianchi, Jules’ mother. In her SMS, which Fabreau read out, she wrote: “You introduced the Halo after the death of my son, today the Halo saved Romain’s life. That’s great. I’m glad he’s okay. ”
FIA President Jean Todt knew in 2014 that the drivers’ heads finally had to be better protected. The safety experts of the FIA, the international auto sport federation, had been researching protection against larger debris for years. Mercedes proposed the concept of the halo (halo) in 2015, and the FIA has refined it. Mercedes also invented the name.
The first prototypes were made of steel. Today’s halo is made of titanium and weighs only 14 kilograms. The bracket must withstand a pressure of 116 kiloNewtons from above (this corresponds to almost 12 tons), 46 kN from the front (4.7 tons) and 93 kN from the side (9.5 tons).
Some drivers had negative comments about the halo. Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Nico Hülkenberg criticized the aesthetics, others believed that visibility would be significantly restricted, and still others believed that a driver would have driven if the car remained upside down.
All arguments have been invalidated: The aesthetics argument appears pathetic when human lives can be saved. I feel like millions of fans myself: At first I found the hanger clunky and ugly, like a foreign body, but after a short time I didn’t even notice it.
The drivers noticed: the view remains good enough, and this objection also vanished. And as for an overturned car: with the halo on, the front part of the chassis is even further from the ground than without it. The FIA carried out appropriate tests, and the test subjects could crawl out of the car without any problems. Like Lance Stroll, whose Racing Point racer had been overturned by Kvyat.
Romain Grosjean: The five decisive factors
The fact that Romain Grosjean is still alive is primarily due to five factors. The halo is just as important as the survival cell, which has had to withstand tougher stress tests almost every year for years.
One of the deciding factors is that Grosjean had not lost consciousness and was able to snake himself out of the driver’s cell, which was jammed at an angle. It also played a role how the survival cell got stuck in the guardrails – just so that a gap remained for the racing driver to free himself from the life-threatening situation.
Finally, the last factor is the rapid intervention of the marshals and the race doctor. The marshals of Bahrain enjoy an excellent reputation far beyond the country’s borders. When an Indian Grand Prix was held for the first time, the specialists from Bahrain were flown in to do the work on the racetrack. At Grosjean, the first extinguishing work was underway around ten seconds after the impact.
For years, the medical team’s Mercedes has followed the field on the first lap in order to be on site as quickly as possible in the event of an accident, the medical car is driven by ex-racer Alan van der Merwe, and the Formula 1 chief physician sits next to him Ian Roberts, who succeeded Gary Hartstein in 2013.
Former rescue helicopter doctor and expert in intensive care and anesthesia medicine, Roberts had been the chief racing doctor at the Great Britain GP in Silverstone for many years. He is also active as a consultant on many motorsport bodies, including the FIA Institute and the British Motorsport Association.
For Ian Roberts: «It was this very special combination of factors that saved Grosjean’s life. If only one factor had been missing, it could have turned out very differently. “
FIA investigation: Lots of questions
The FIA has launched an investigation, as Formula 1 racing director Michael Masi has confirmed. “The FIA initiates an in-depth investigation into every incident. During the race, we began to collect all available information, including shots from all possible angles. Our technical teams have collected a lot of pictures, including of the accident vehicle that was brought back to the team. ”
“Now everything is being examined in great detail to find out what lessons we can learn from this incident. We look at every aspect, from the safety of the car to the driver’s equipment and the track. ”
Questions are asked such as: Shouldn’t the guardrails have had to be secured with stacks of tires at that point? How did Grosjean’s racing car break? Is the risk of fire underestimated? How must security forces proceed if a driver is passed out in the car in a comparable accident?
There will be no quick answers. In the case of the Bianchi accident, it took a good two months for the FIA to analyze the accident.
For many drivers, fans and journalists, Jules Bianchi’s accident in Suzuka in 2014 came like a hammer blow. Just like the fatal accident of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert in Spa-Francorchamps in 2019.
A new generation of GP supporters and reporters had grown up since Imola in 1994 when we lost Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna on the same race weekend; a generation that did not know death as a paddock guest, a generation that was not stunned in front of the television in the spring of 1994, let alone how some of my work colleagues and I experienced the Imola tragedy on site.
I have often heard experts say: “Oh, nothing can happen in Formula 1 anymore.” A deceptive, short-sighted, stupid thought that always annoys me. Because it only takes different factors that come together to have to complain about a Formula 1 death again.
“Motorsport is dangerous” is written on every access pass for the Formula 1 paddock.
We shouldn’t forget that for a second.