Romain Grosjean’s remarkable escape from an enormous, violent, high-speed accident at the Bahrain Grand Prix has been hailed as a testament to Formula One’s pursuit of safety. The Frenchman’s Haas car, which suffered a 53G impact, had split into two and he was engulfed in a fireball before climbing from the wreckage with relatively minor injuries.
Grosjean suffered only second degree burns to his hands and was taken to hospital for a check-up. His car had speared through the metal barriers, which they are designed to prevent, but his head was protected by the halo cockpit protection device made mandatory by the FIA in 2018.
Grosjean confirmed his appreciation of the halo device in an Instagram post from his hospital bed. “Hello everyone, I just wanted to say I am OK – well, sort of OK,” he said. “I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today.”
Lewis Hamilton, who went on to win, acknowledged that Grosjean could easily have been killed. “This was horrifying, I am so grateful the halo worked, that the barrier didn’t slice his head off, it could have been so much worse,” the world champion said. “This is a reminder to people watching, this is a dangerous sport. It shows what an amazing job that F1 and the FIA have done over time to be able to walk away from something like that.”
Ross Brawn, F1’s director of motorsport, was unequivocal that the halo, which had been criticised when first imposed, had been instrumental in saving Grosjean’s life. “The positive was the safety of the car and that is what got us through today,” said Brawn. “The barrier splitting was a problem many years ago and it normally resulted in a fatality; there is no doubt that the halo saved the day. The team behind it deserve credit for forcing it through. After today no one can doubt the validity of that, it was a life saver.”
How Grosjean’s life was saved
Romain Grosjean’s life was almost certainly saved by the halo protection device. The cockpit itself is designed and tested to great extremes to act as a survival cell in the case of major accidents. The halo is a titanium hoop structure which sits over the cockpit designed to protect he driver’s head and was introduced in 2018. It was greeted with some resistance and scepticism, with concerns that drivers would have difficulty quickly extricating themselves from a car in the event of a fire. Drivers do practise the procedure, including proving they can remove themselves within 10 seconds. The violence of the impact and the height of the car entering the barriers would have left Grosjean’s head completely exposed to the steel barriers without the halo and his swift exit proved it was not an encumbrance.
Other essential kit
Fireproof suits Inner layer including balaclava made of artificial fibre Nomex, resists ignition for 10 seconds. Nomex race suit has same properties.
Survival cell Carbon fibre and a layer of Kevlar surround the driver. Designed to absorb energy, it also includes automatic fire-suppression system.
Medical car Follows the grid after start. So driver Alan van der Merwe and Dr Ian Roberts arrived within seconds and, with marshals, helped Grosjean escape.
A variety of other factors also played into Grosjean’s survival, including his fireproof suit, the cockpit survival cell, his neck and head protection in the form of the Hans (head and neck support) device and the swift action of the FIA personnel in the medical car and the track marshals. Jean Todt, the president of the FIA, praised the actions of Dr Ian Roberts and the driver, Alan van der Merwe, who attended almost immediately in the medical car.
There will be comprehensive investigations into the accident, especially to identify why the barriers sheared apart allowing the car through and how fuel escaped to catch fire.