How Grosjean’s helmet helped keep him alive in Bahrain fireball crash

2020 F1 season

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In the burning wreckage of his Haas VF-20, yet remarkably still conscious despite a fearsome 53G impact, Romain Grosjean took 28 seconds to emerge from the flames. It must have felt like much longer.

His survival was a testament to the many advances in driver safety equipment which have been made over the years. One of which was his crash helmet which is supplied, like those of many other drivers on the grid, by Bell.

The most obvious role a driver’s crash helmet plays is shielding them from impacts and, unusually in the case of Grosjean’s crash, fire. The manufacturer’s initial inspection of the interior and exterior of Grosjean’s helmet indicate it “performed exactly as it was expected to perform in such circumstances,” Bell CEO Stephane Cohen told RaceFans.

Footage of the crash showed Grosjean’s visor appeared opaque after he emerged from the conflagration, suggesting it had been melted by the intense heat. Cohen explained it was actually the tear-off strips which had been affected by the flames.

Grosjean was in the fire for 28 seconds
“In terms of the fire resistance everything behaved normally,” he said. “The visor was perfectly fine.

“The only thing that melted were the tear-offs that were stuck on the external side of the visor. That rendered the visor quite opaque, especially on the left side of the helmet when the fire was coming.”

Grosjean has described how it took him three attempts to escape from his burning chassis. While he was literally fighting for his life, the burning wreckage posed another hazard besides the extreme heat – smouldering particles of ash and soot.

Working together with his layers of fireproof clothing, Grosjean’s helmet helped protect his lungs from the kind of damage Niki Lauda’s suffered in his terrible crash at the Nurburgring in 1976.

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Cohen says Bell is “very proud” of how their helmet worked in this respect.

Aside from burns to his hands, Grosjean was largely uninjured
“Once you are standing still there is very little circulation of air coming from outside to the inside of the helmet which is a very important area for us. That’s where Bell can proudly say that not only do we meet but we exceed the standard expectation.

“Because in this kind of accident, when you stay more than 25 seconds in the fire, you’re liable to inhale some hot gases, vapour fumes that will create lung damage. And it didn’t happen. Nothing went inside the helmet. So we are very happy with the way the helmet performed in these unexpected conditions.”

The performance of Grosjean’s helmet is just one of the reasons he was able to walk away from a crash which initially appeared unsurvivable. It is now being studied by the FIA, along with other evidence, to piece together exactly what happened and learn what further improvements can be made to keep drivers safe in future crashes.

“As a community – the FIA, the helmet manufacturers and everybody involved in safety – we can be proud that although there was a massive deceleration, Romain was always conscious,” Cohen believes.

“He wasn’t knocked out by the impact and he was able to walk out of the car, as everybody knows. Can you imagine if he had been unconscious? It would have been a totally different result.”

An in-depth analysis of how Grosjean survived his Bahrain crash will appear in this week’s edition of the RacingLines column, which will be published later today on RaceFans.

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Romain Grosjean 2020 helmet
Romain Grosjean’s 2020 crash helmet

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “How Grosjean’s helmet helped keep him alive in Bahrain fireball crash”

  1. Still a MIRACLE. Bless Romain.

    1. @wildbiker Actually no miracle, but science :)

      1. Do we really need posts debunking “miracles” everytime anyone calls Grosjeans survival a “miracle”?

        Anyway I am very very happy he managed to walk away from such a horrendous accident.

        1. Only on posts remarking MIRACLE in uppercase @homerlovesbeer

          1. I think that’s a very good criteria @m-bagattini

        2. @homerlovesbeer I have no problem calling it a miracle, you may have missed my smily. But the whole subject of this item is about how Grosjean was saved by human doings, not by magic.

        3. GtisBetter (@passingisoverrated)
          3rd December 2020, 11:35

          Yes. This is the combination of a lot of terrible accidents and lessons learned. We should recognize that those people paid a high price, but take comfort that now it has most likely saved a life.

  2. So no lung damage because of the filters used in the vents I assume? Brilliant stuff. Its times like these we realise all the tireless unseen work they do even for super rare events like Sunday.

    One thing I would probably review is that if the tear offs go opaque, effectively melting onto the visor, this can effect his vision and if he had one way to get out as he was stuck in the Armco but couldn’t find it he would be in trouble

    1. I think there is a lot to review, including the tearoffs, but how can they account for everything?

      I was thinking that they need to get rid of laces on the shoes and if a guy wants to wear kneepads, they need to be sewed into the suit so none of these things can get stuck when trying to climb out of a wreck.

  3. Speechless with admiration they’ve come this far with protective matters. Highly impressive, 30 seconds in the flames.

  4. There have been quite a few of fatal accidents in autosport, that should not have been fatal if there was a little more safety or just a little more luck involved. We now witnessed an accident that ‘should’ have been fatal but miraculously wasn’t because of the immense progress autosport made on safety.

    1. Indeed @matthijs, have to say that’s a good feeling to have. Yes, failure modes, and things to learn and improve, but in this case at least no unfixable consequences.

    2. @matthijs “miraculously”? You mean science right? ;)

      1. @f1osaurus Well spotted, you got me there! :)

    3. Absolutely true, I remember what motpr racing was like in the 60’s when I started. Thanks largely to Jackie Stewart and doctor Sid Watkins.

  5. Lessons learned through the years. I remember reading about Tetsuya Ota’s accident at Fuji in the 90s, when he survived a massive fire only to have his visor melting on his face.

    It’s spectacular how far they’ve gone.

  6. I’m really looking forward to this article. I’ve read in the past days that oxygen was supplied to his helmet. But I wonder if that’s still the case. In the 80s they had tubes attached to their helmets to supply oxygen in case of a fire. But often it prevented a quick exit and we don’t see them anymore.

    These tubes were common in the 80s
    https://cdn2.wtf1.com/wp-content/uploads/20200824210243/20190925-ccd1aa3349bf8a72b9ce1ad0efd4036f-2048×1042.jpg

  7. I’m curious exactly how the smoke and burning toxins didn’t get into his helmet. Do they have a helmet-skirt like the NHRA guys do? Drivers need to breath quite heavily, that cannot be getting filtered, can it?

  8. Nice post-thanks, Dieter. Amazing job by Bell!

  9. So it seems that safer tear-offs are a possible improvement.

  10. No Miracle, it was just a case where His Number was not up yet. And that’s up to God only. Thank You Tom C.

  11. Yeah, and you can thank Bill Simpson for the fire suits. Impact.com

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