At the tail end of the 2020 Formula One season, Haas driver Romain Grosjean suffered a terrifying crash at the Bahrain International Circuit. His car became lodged between sections of the Armco barrier, split apart, and lit on fire. It was one of the more violent wrecks we’ve seen in F1 in a long time, and the FIA, F1's governing body, has finally released a full report of what happened—including what, exactly, went wrong.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) generally handles these investigations with care. Any time a driver is killed or seriously hurt—or any time a crash is way more violent than most of the others we’ve seen recently—the FIA does an in-depth analysis of the cause and shares the report.
Here’s what the most recent report on Grosjean’s incident had to say:
The car suffered extensive damage during the impact including separation of the power train assembly from the survival cell. The fuel tank inspection hatch on the left-hand side of the chassis was dislodged and the engine fuel supply connection was torn from the fuel tank ‘safety bladder’; both providing primary paths for the escape of fuel from the tank.
The driver safety equipment including helmet, HANS and safety harness as well as the survival cell, seat, headrest and Halo frontal cockpit protection performed according to their specifications in protecting the driver’s survival space and managing the forces applied to the driver during the impact.
The high voltage Energy Recovery System (ERS) battery was significantly damaged, with some parts of the ERS battery assembly remaining with the powertrain and others remaining attached to the survival cell.
Fire was ignited during the final moments of the barrier impact, starting from the rear of the survival cell and progressing forwards towards the driver as the fire grew.
So, basically, the FIA has confirmed what seemed to be the case just by looking at the accident footage: the car and all its safety measures appeared to do their jobs. The main problem here was the fact that the fuel tank’s safety bladder was torn in the impact, which is what resulted in the fire.
That being said, there are tons of things the FIA is going to be looking into after Grosjean’s wreck, including:
- Changes to the fuel bladder and/or fuel type
- The steering column, since it trapped Grosjean’s left foot in the initial part of the accident
- Power unit mounting
- Headrest position, specifically in instances of fire
- Improvements to fireproof gloves
- Guardrail improvements
- Better barriers
- More efficient fire extinguishing options
So, basically, any part of the crash that did not perform as intended is going to be strongly investigated, with upgrades and improvements coming in the future.
Racing is an inherently dangerous sport, and there’s always the opportunity for a crash to happen that defies expectations. But the FIA does a damn good job of making sure that there are no repeats of those accidents.