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Another life-saving win for F1’s quiet achievements

Another life-saving win for F1’s quiet achievements

FORMULA ONE: Zhou Guanyu’s horror cartwheeling crash at the British Grand Prix last Sunday (July 3) has generated headlines, but it’s F1’s constant crusade for better safety that should be stealing the show.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Thursday 7 July 2022, 09:15AM


Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu skids across the track after a collision with Mercedes’ George Russell during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last Sunday (July 3). Photo: Ben Stansall / AFP

Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu skids across the track after a collision with Mercedes’ George Russell during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last Sunday (July 3). Photo: Ben Stansall / AFP

Seven seconds is all it took for Zhou Guanyu’s British Grand Prix to come to a sickening end.

The lights had just gone out, and the Alfa Romeo rookie was lining up ninth. His getaway was slow, as was that of George Russell who was starting to his right.

Russell moved subtly to the right as the cars streamed past them, but the Englishman was unaware that Pierre Gasly spied a gap between the two slow-starting drivers and wanted to cut through the middle. They made contract, sending Russell’s Mercedes sliding out of control into Zhou’s Alfa Romeo.

That happened in just seven seconds. What happened next must have felt like an eternity for Zhou.

His car was rammed sideways so hard that it flipped upside down. Carrying considerable speed, it slid listlessly down the straight and into the gravel at the first turn.

It skated unperturbed across the stones at high speed until suddenly it dug in. Momentum catapulted the car into the air and over the tyre barrier that had been ready to receive it with a cushioning impact, and instead the Alfa Romeo hit the chain link fence in front of the grandstands at full force.

From there it dropped into the gap behind the tyres and the fence, where at long last his car came to rest.

From lights out to wipe-out in just 14 seconds.

But the most spectacular part of the crash wasn’t the carnage, it was seeing Zhou walk through the paddock only an hour or so later completely unscathed.

He’ll race again this weekend in Austria.

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“Halo saved me today,” he tweeted in the aftermath, referring to the metal head protection frame that surrounds the drivers in European single-seater racing.

The halo has some incredible properties despite derision over its looks when it was introduced in 2018. Weighing just seven kilograms and made of titanium, it’s rated to withstand the weight of a London bus sitting on top of it.

In Zhou’s case, even when his traditional roll hoop appeared to fail, the halo stood strong, protecting his head from scraping the ground and, later, the barrier as his car wedged itself between the tyres and the fence.

Earlier that day it had prevented another disaster in Formula 2 when an airborne car speared into the cockpit of another. Neither driver was hurt.

Last year Lewis Hamilton survived Max Verstappen’s car landing on top of his in Italy. And in 2020 Romain Grosjean survived his fireball crash in Bahrain because the halo wedged open a gap in the armco barrier before it could strike his head.

It’s been one of the most remarkable developments in motorsport safety in decades.

But it’s far from the only piece of progress. Work to improve safety in Formula 1 is constant each year. Look inside the technical regulations and you’ll see standards resistances uprated, tolerances enhanced and geometries realigned constantly in pursuit of better protecting the driver.

Not only were so many of those on display in Zhou’s spectacular cartwheel crash, but Thai driver Alex Albon too has the never-ending pursuit of safety to thank for being able to race this weekend.

Albon was rear-ended by Sebastian Vettel as the field slowed for Zhou’s crash, sending his Williams spearing into the concrete pit all, across the track and into heavy contact with two other cars. The G-force experienced was so severe he was helicoptered to hospital for observation - but he too walked away later that day and will race again this weekend.

Carlos Sainz recorded a superb maiden victory on Sunday, fresh from his first pole the day before, but it’s thanks to F1’s non-stop safety mission that the race was able to resume after its shocking first 14 seconds.

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