motor sport

Fireball in Bahrain

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix witnessed one of the most terrifying crashes seen in F1 for some years.

Within moments of the start, Romain Grosjean’s Haas crossed the pack from left to right, was clipped by Kvyat’s AlphaTauri and speared off the track and into the barrier on the right at undiminished speed.

Within an instant the car was a raging inferno, the total fuel load exploding in a massive fireball.

Everyone watching, both in Bahrain and those of us at home watching live on the television, held their breath. It was hard to think in the shock of the moment that anyone could survive such an intense crash and fire.

Around 20 seconds later, a collective sigh of relief was heard as Romain had found a way out of the shattered car and was being lifted over the barrier and helped away by the doctor and the medical car driver, aided by the fire marshals forcing back the flames and dousing their smouldering race suits with extinguishers, all of whom arrived on the scene almost immediately.

As the fire was brought under control it became apparent that the car had split in half. The ‘front’ half including the safety cell with the all important ‘Halo’ roll cage had pierced the Armco barrier, separating the horizontal layers and coming to rest on its side halfway through. The remaining ‘rear’ of the car, was still alight on the trackside, debris scattered far and wide.

The ‘flight or fight’ adrenalin rush is a powerful force within all of us, but it takes a rare human being to survive a 137mph, 53 g impact with the presence of mind to get out of the harness, to assess the means of escape, and get out of a massive fire in under 20 seconds.

Doubtless the actions of those few moments saved Romain Grosjean’s life. They allowed him to literally walk away with only minor burns to his hands.

Those few seconds tested not only the integrity of the car, but neared the design limits of all of the safety equipment, the helmet, suit, boots and gloves. It had got so hot that even the visor of his helmet had started to melt.

Only introduced in F1 in 2018, the Halo device very clearly protected Romain from a very nasty impact with the barrier. Its titanium and carbon fibre structure easily exceeded its stated 50 g design limit.

It now seems slightly bizarre that, prior to its introduction by the FIA, many of the drivers, Romain included, were against the halo. They thought that it would diminish the show, the ‘open wheel open cockpit’ show. Judging by the looks on drivers’ faces as they crowded into the pitlane to await the restart, there are no doubters now.

A full and thorough investigation has already commenced and doubtless more safety features and procedures will come from it, but for now we salute the bravery of the doctor, the medical car driver and the marshals who excelled in every way.

We’re very very glad that the sport we love has not claimed another victim. Motor Sport IS dangerous …. it says so on every ticket.

Graham Benge

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