At the start of this Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Haas driver Romain Grosjean sustained a frankly horrific crash that saw his car both split in half and burst into flames. While the driver sustained minor burns and the marshals in the area seemed to escape without injury, the images are honestly pretty terrifying.
When the green flag flew, things started off just like normal: Lewis Hamilton leaped into the lead while his teammate Valtteri Bottas was swallowed up in the fray, losing several positions.
It was at the rear of the grid that things got messy. There was some squeezing and fighting, with several drivers swerving into the runoff. At the very tail of the line, Haas’ Romain Grosjean seemed to cut sharply to the right in front of Alpha Tauri driver Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat tagged Grosjean. Grosjean collided with the Armco barrier at speed.
It seems that Grosjean’s tire was speared by debris or that he was trying to avoid slower cars in front of him., but Kvyat was there in the way.
That particular section of the Armco barrier was one where it very quickly returned to hugging the side of the track after hemming the runoff area. It’s a fairly sharp angle, as it also allows for vehicles to tuck behind the barrier.
When Grosjean collided with the Armco, all fans could see was a huge burst of flames, something that hasn’t happened in F1 in years. The cars are structurally very strong and have been designed to prevent fuel tank punctures—which meant that, for a while, all viewers knew was the fact that this was a very bad accident.
Thankfully, the FIA mandates a safety car follow the cars on the first lap, so someone was on the scene immediately. One of the drivers in the car had a fire extinguisher and managed to put out the flames on Grosjean’s body as he escaped the car and leaped over the barrier.
Shaken but walking on his own two feet, Grosjean was taken to the medical center via ambulance.
The images we could see after the fire was put out are, frankly, horrifying. Grosjean’s car was sliced in half, with the front of his vehicle piercing through the Armco barrier. The rear part was almost perfectly severed. Both front wheel assemblies launched into the air in different directions—one into the inside of the track, the other across the track and into the opposite runoff.
The halo appears to be scraping against the top of the Armco barrier, with his seat wedged underneath. That halo may honestly have prevented Grosjean losing his head like Helmuth Koenigg did at Watkins Glen International in 1974.
There’s a reckoning to be had with the chassis maker and with the Haas team itself. While this is certainly a strange accident, it’s also worth understanding what happened and how to prevent it in the future.
Team principal Guenther Steiner confirmed that Grosjean sustained light burns to his wrists and ankles. Later, it was announced that Grosjean was being taken to the hospital with suspected broken ribs.
At the moment, the race is projected to restart, but there is no indication as to when that will be. Extensive repairs will need to be made to the barriers before that happens.