Safety has always been the clarion call by the racing community. Open-wheel cars are more suspect to get involved with horrific shunts
A prime example occurred this weekend in Bahrain, where the Formula 1 circuit made its stop towards closing out the season. The night race just began when Romain Grosjean tried to position himself into Turn 3. The French driver for the Haas F1 racing team exited the turn as the pack of cars started to shuffle along the track. We saw Kimi Raikkonen slide off the course on the left side in his Alfa Romeo right at the turn.
A second or so later, Grosjean tried to get through the pack. He then made contact with AlphaTauri's Russian driver Daniil Kvyat. Grosjean slid violently off the course into a "safety" barrier.
The Haas F1 car burst into flames. However, Grosjean climbed out of the car with seconds to spare. The medical staff got him away from the wreckage, spraying anti-fire retardant on his racing suit before they put Grosjean in the Mercedes-Benz medical vehicle.
Grosjean was lucky. Or, as one of the medical staff that tended to Grosjean was quoted in Autosport that he was "lucky by being unlucky."
After the delay and restart, another shunt occurred on the first lap in Turn 8. That was when Canadian Lance Stroll ended up flipping this Racing Point car after connecting with Kvyat. He radioed his team that he was OK and got out of his car after getting assistance from the race marshalls and medical staff.
What saved both Grosjean's and Stroll's lives was a new safety addition to F1 and IndyCar racers – the Halo.
The Halo was designed as an external safety ring above the cockpit. It is to protect the driver in a rollover crash. This extra piece of safety equipment goes beyond the windscreen when it comes to protecting the driver in more ways than it is intended.
Grojean's car was sliced in half, with the rear portion somewhat intact. The front part – where Grosjean was sitting – was reduced to almost nothing. The fire was ignited by a full tank of fuel onboard. The race was red flagged and delayed for some time to get the barrier fixed and the car off the course.
There are many post-race thoughts that come to mind. They all point to one thing: Grosjean walked away from this crash with minor injuries.
For one, the Halo worked. It kept Grosjean protected from the barrier and enabled him to escape the car before the worst happened. It could be as simple as that. However, we must understand what would have happened if there was no Halo on the Haas F1 car. Grosjean could have left the car with possibly more injuries, including burns to his body. Not to be overdramatic, but similar crashes had worst outcomes over the past 70 years of Formula 1 – and in other race circuits.
Car safety is one thing. Racecourse safety is another. The concern that many of us have on race venues have been the barriers. Some barriers will save lives more than others. Looking at the barrier Grosjean crashed into – which appeared to be metal barriers that were made to flex upon impact – it is worth repeating how lucky he was.
None of this should be an indictment to the Bahrain circuit, the FIA and Formula 1. Nor should we point fingers at the drivers and race teams. Unless something controversial has been brought up – one could simply mark this up as "accidents happen" in Grosjean's and Stroll's incidents. I fear we will not hear the end of all of this.
However, we must relate this the world beyond motosports. It has been said that what we learn from racing can be implemented into our automobiles. Yes, we’re thankful that automakers have done a better job in engineering better rollover protection in our automobiles by better roof design and construction. We’re also thankful that occupant safety and vehicle protection has been integrated in the production process.
With every horrific crash we see – whether it is at the Bahrain Grand Prix or on the highway not far from home – we should be thankful every time someone walks away from it.
Photo courtesy of F1.com/FIA