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Mika Häkkinen: "Three separate safety systems saved Romain Grosjean's life"


Mika Häkkinen: "Three separate safety systems saved Romain Grosjean's life"

Grosjean's harrowing crash underlined once again the real and present dangers of F1, but also the player safety progress that has been made.

ROMAIN Grosjean is alive today thanks to the work which the FIA, together with Formula 1’s engineers and circuits designers have done to improve driver safety over the last 30 years. We have seen many large accidents in Formula 1, but few as serious as Grosjean’s.

During the first 30 years of Formula 1’s history a number of driver fatalities were caused by cars going through the armco barriers, including that of Jochen Rindt who died as a result of his accident at the 1970 Italian Grand Prix in Monza. It is only three months ago that we were commemorating the 50th anniversary of that tragedy.

Modern Armco barriers are much stronger, mounted correctly and designed to withstand very high energy impacts, but Grosjean’s car hit the wall head-on at 221kph, a 53G impact. Since the accident happened at the start of the race, the car had full tank of fuel - around 140 litres. To see a modern F1 car break in two and the carbon Kevlar fuel cell damaged, causing a significant fire, is extremely unusual. 

In my opinion three separate safety systems saved Romain’s life - the carbon fibre chassis, the halo cockpit protection and the fireproof driver equipment.

My former team, McLaren, introduced carbon fibre chassis into Formula 1 back in 1981 and over the years these immensely strong but light safety cells have been steadily developed to the point where they can withstand even the most high-energy impacts. The front, rear and side impact protection has been constantly improved, and this is why Romain did not suffer any broken bones which could have prevented him from escaping.

In 2018 the FIA mandated the introduction of the halo device which is made from titanium, weighs nine kilogrammes, and protects the driver from any large pieces of debris entering the cockpit. I fully supported the introduction of this device, particularly following Jules Bianchi’s tragic accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, and we have already seen a number of drivers avoid injury as a result of its strength.

I have no doubt that the halo prevented Romain’s helmet coming into direct contact with the barrier. This was really critical, as head injuries need to be avoided whenever possible.

The explosion and fire caused by the damaged fuel system was potentially very serious, but thanks to the fact that Romain had been protected from the initial impact he was conscious, and therefore able to get out of the car. His survival also shows just how good the fireproof overalls and underwear are, together with the strength of the helmet and visor.

In my accident in Australia in 1995 I was knocked unconscious, but fortunately I did not have a fire. Niki Lauda was not so lucky when he suffered his big accident at the Nurburgring in 1975, and it was only through the bravery of other drivers that he was freed from the wreckage of his car.

To watch Romain climb out of the car was just fantastic, but I also want to mention the actions of Dr Ian Roberts who arrived on the scene within a matter of seconds, helped the marshal tackle the fire and assisted Romain. In a situation like this every second counts.

I wish Romain a speedy recovery from the burns to his hands, and can only congratulate the FIA, Formula 1 and the teams for their brilliant work to improve safety. 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, but in Bahrain we had good reason to celebrate a positive outcome to a such a terrible accident. 

The race was won by Lewis Hamilton after a typically strong performance from pole position, a 95th Grand Prix win for the seven times World Champion. As usual it was Red Bull which gave Mercedes some problems, with Max Verstappen and Alex Albon doing a really good job to be on the podium, but I felt very sorry for Sergio Perez who was heading for a second consecutive podium finish before his engine blew up just before the end of the race.

Sergio has a been driving really well recently, and with team mate Lance Stroll suffering an accident early on in the race - which saw his car upside down after a low-speed roll - it looked like he was going to give Racing Point another strong performance. Engine failures are very rare, especially a Mercedes engine, so this was a big disappointment for him and the team.

With Sergio retiring and the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz finishing 4th and 5th, McLaren is now in third place in the World Championship for Constructors - a really remarkable performance for the team.

Next weekend sees the second race in Bahrain, although using very different circuit layout, and that is going to very interesting to watch. New tracks create new challenges, but whatever happens next Sunday we can be satisfied that the safety within our sport is something to be proud of.

 

 

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