Luckily, the halo protecting the driver’s head held up.
We could see the incredible inertia of these single-seaters. Guanyu Zhou’s Sauber Alfa Romeo skidded for a very long time, an estimated distance of 200 meters, surfed the ferry’s gravel (should slow it down) as if it didn’t exist and was catapulted over the six rows of protective tires.
Luckily, the fence was the ultimate protection that made it possible to avoid the catastrophe, because the single-seater stopped a meter in front of the audience in the stands at the Abbey corner (corner 1 since 2011).
The FIA which is responsible for safety in Formula 1 has launched an investigation. It must conscientiously analyze and eliminate security deficiencies in the course of events.
First of all, it has to take into account the solidity of the roll bar of the Swiss team’s single-seater. Not the halo but the bow, this extremely resistant piece created in the late ’60s and launched in 1978.
The roll bar is an integral part of the survival cell (the resilient cabin that protects the rider’s body) and is theoretically intended to prevent the helmet from touching the track if the single-seater rolls over. The bow is called the in English
Roll over hoop“,”text”:”Roll over hoop”}}”>roll over the tire.
Since 1978, the regulations have stipulated that the survival cell must be equipped with a roll bar that is 5 centimeters above the pilot’s helmet.
Also surprising is that until 1983, the roll cage was the only part of the F1 that required inspection by a chartered engineer.
Beginning in 1989, the arch was integrated into the hood air intake of single-seaters.
In the 2010s, teams took the development of these air intakes for aerodynamic purposes so far that the FIA had to rein in the imagination of engineers by imposing more stringent roll bar drag tests.
The Alfa Romeo C42’s roll bar is not of the conventional type but in the form of a vertical blade. It is the only team this season to use this type of roll bar. She had left him in 2020 and 2021.
The leaf roll cage was used by Mercedes-Benz in 2010. At the time, the FIA feared that this structure would sink into the ground (depending on the surface, of course) and put up wider sheets.
The choice of the vertical wing allows an aerodynamic gain and a weight gain.
The picture of the car on the trailer is shocking. The roll bar is completely gone and the halo has taken over.
The FIA, which will have access to all telemetry data and all parts of the damaged Alfa Romeo Sauber, will enable them to determine if the vertical roll bar has given way too easily under the circumstances.
The roll bar must be able to support a lateral load of 6123 kg, a longitudinal force of 7138 kg and a vertical force of 10,707 kg.
The trade press is already claiming that the roll bar suffered a side impact far beyond the regulations, hitting the ground at full rotation perpendicular to the trajectory.
It’s up to the FIA
The FIA is expected to ban the vertical bladed roll bar in 2023 and could require all teams to incorporate the halo into the structure of the roll bar in 2024.
In fact, the Alfa Romeo Sauber’s roll bar appears to have absorbed much of the impact energy through decay. The halo alone might not have lasted. How to know?
Remember that the halo was created in 2015 (and imposed in 2018) not to protect the driver’s head if their single seater tips over, but to protect the driver from any object that might hit them in the face, a tire, a mechanical part or scraps of bodywork.
The image of Felipe Massa, disfigured after receiving a suspension spring in the middle of the helmet in 2009, remained etched in our memories, forcing the FIA to think about an additional element of protection in the cockpit.
The halo is the result of this six-year reflection, designed to deflect a 20-kilogram wheel thrown at more than 220 km/h (according to FIA tests conducted).
The halo also performed its duty in the 3rd lap of the British Grand Prix on Sunday.
A drift off the front wing of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari hit the halo of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull head-on. The Dutchman was not hit by the well-identified flying object.
Given the accident in which Guanyu Zhou miraculously escaped unharmed, the FIA clearly needs to do their active safety homework again, either revise the stress tests (crash tests) of the engine air intake safety arc.
Is this a design flaw of the Alfa Romeo Sauber C42? However, this single-seater has successfully passed all resistance tests required by the FIA before it is allowed to drive.
Then the association must also do its homework in terms of passive safety, i.e. check the safety of the curves on the routes used by F1.
The Silverstone circuit showed a weakness on Sunday at Turn 1 (as the start/finish line was moved in 2011), the Abbey corner.
If it weren’t for the fence, the single-seater would have stopped running into the grandstand right behind it. Luckily nobody was behind the protective tires (track staff or photographer).
Should the tires be glued to the fence? Should the protective tires be doubled in height? In addition, the FIA can take the opportunity to use the BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club), owners of the Silverstone circuit, to replace the old tires with the new Tecpro barriers that we see everywhere else, including the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit.
Should we move back the grandstand, which is already a long way from the track? Remember that even a fence cannot necessarily stop a single-seater, as its inertia can propel it to an unexpected force.
Speak to Patrick Carpentier, who experienced a similar mishap in Laguna Seca, California, in 2000…
The release zone to check
Rely on the BRDC to make the necessary corrections.
It will clearly be necessary to check the Abbey corner release zone, check the position of the fence so that a single-seater doesn’t crash to the ground behind the tires and make it difficult to get the driver out.
What British pilot George Russell revealed after rushing to the scene of the accident to help his colleague.
In this position, Guanyu was completely a prisoner of his single seater, he noted. You need to think about how to prevent a car from falling into such a small space. He couldn’t get out of his car.
Remember that Russell is a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA).
We dare not imagine the scene if the fuel tank (a malleable Kevlar skin behind the driver’s seat) had ruptured, been punctured by part of the single-seater, and the fuel caught fire. The driver would not have had a chance to get out of his single-seater quickly and alone.
It’s always frustrating to see that accidents like Guanyu Zhou’s at Silverstone on Sunday require safety, whether active or passive, to be reviewed and corrected.
But that’s how it is in racing. Of course, the systematic inspections of tracks and cars by FIA experts cannot see and foresee everything.