If you tuned into Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, you witnessed one of the most horrific crashes F1 has ever seen. Haas driver, Romain Grosjean hit the steel barrier at 137 mph on the opening lap, and a reported 53G impact tore the car in half, which then instantly became engulfed in flames due to a fuel leak.
Fortunately, Grosjean emerged from the wreck after just 28 seconds, able to walk away with relatively minor burns to his wrists. Obviously, the outcome could have been far worse.
The fact Grosjean remained conscious in an accident that tore his car in two was also miraculous, but ultimately proved essential to his survival. He spent nearly 30 seconds working his way loose from the wreckage before emerging from the inferno with the help of Formula 1’s traveling doctor, Dr. Ian Roberts, who arrived quickly on the scene in the medical car. It took just 10 seconds for the medical car, which follows the pack at the start of every race, to arrive on the scene.
It was an incredibly lucky escape, but one that would not have been possible without a number of safety features on the car. Decades of safety research by Formula 1 and its governing body, the FIA, provided Grosjean with the lifeline he needed to escape the wreckage on Sunday evening. The strength of the survival cell, his fireproof overalls – which were uprated for all drivers this year – and, crucially, the halo device all contributed to saving his life.
The halo is a titanium structure that sits above the driver’s head. It is capable of resisting forces equivalent to a 12 ton weight and was initially developed to deflect large pieces of debris that would otherwise hit the driver’s head.
In Grosjean’s accident the halo protected his head from the upper part of the barrier as it was split from the bottom section by the force of the accident. Amid the flames, Grosjean was then able to pull himself out through the halo’s opening above the cockpit and jump to safety.
In the lead-up to its introduction in 2018, the halo received widespread criticism from a number of drivers and team bosses within the sport, including Grosjean himself. The arguments, which were mainly based on aesthetics and the belief that it was against “the DNA” of open-cockpit racing, seem hard to comprehend now, but it’s a credit to the FIA that it was pushed through on safety grounds.
Speaking on Instagram from his hospital room, Grosjean put whatever was left of the halo debate to bed.
“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing we brought it to Formula 1 and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today,” he said. “Thanks to all the medical staff at the circuit, at the hospital, and hopefully I can soon write you some messages and tell you how it’s going.”
While the halo did its job, serious concerns remain over a number of other factors in the accident.
“We have to do a very deep analysis of what happened because lots of things were worrying,” F1’s motorsport director Ross Brawn said on Sunday night. “The fire was worrying and the split of the barrier was worrying – the safety of the car is what got us through today. Barriers splitting was a classic problem many years ago and normally resulted in a fatality. No doubt the halo saved Romain. I don’t think anyone can doubt the validity of the halo. It was a lifesaver today.
“There will be some careful scrutiny between now and the next race and the action will be taken that needs to be done. It is something we have not seen in a long time and something we did not predict.”
The barrier and the fireball remain the two biggest concerns and further investigation by F1 will be conducted.