Romain Grosjean crash, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Severity of Grosjean’s crash due to several factors – Tilke

2020 F1 season

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The severity of Romain Grosjean‘s fiery crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix was a consequence of multiple factors, the designer of the circuit believes.

Grosjean struck a barrier at the exit of turn three on the first lap of last month’s race. A 53G force was recorded as his Haas split the guardrail in two.

His car was torn in half and exploded into flames, but Grosjean managed to free himself from the wreckage. He was left with burned hands which prevented him from contesting the final two rounds of the season.

The crash occured after Grosjean’s car made contact with Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri. Hermann Tilke, who created the Bahrain International Circuit, told Der Standard the crash was so severe because Grosjean hit the barrier at an angle steep enough not to be deflected by it.

“At some point everything will break if the force is great enough,” Tilke explained. “Several factors came together.

“The accident happened on a straight, where the run-off zones are narrower and the crash barriers are parallel to the track. The angle of impact was 90 degrees. If it had been sharper, the car would have scraped along the guardrail and drained the energy. 53G acted on Grosjean, an incredible amount.”

The FIA is investigating the crash and intends to publish its findings early next year. Tilke said careful lessons will need to be learned about possible safety improvements

“With Grosjean’s angle of impact, it would have been better if there had been a force retarder in front of the guardrail, for instance a stack of tyres,” said Tilke. “In other impacts, however, this could be counterproductive because the car can get caught in them.

“Everything has advantages and disadvantages, you have to be careful not to worsen other scenarios. For example: if you drive a car, buckle up, because you know that the seat belt will protect you in an accident. In 0.001% of accidents, however, it could be better not to wear a seat belt. But you won’t say: ‘Then I won’t buckle up again.’

“The FIA ​​will be investigating the incident closely. The system worked for decades. Such an accident happened for the first time in this form.”

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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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23 comments on “Severity of Grosjean’s crash due to several factors – Tilke”

  1. Nearly every accident is a series of factors coming together. Elimination or mitigation of any single one can greatly reduce the consequence. This is illustrated by the ADDITION of the halo to ALL the safety cell technology.
    However, too often the culture of the FIA is to concentrate on only one IMMEDIATE factor. Halo was always driven by a loose wheel impact such as Henry Surtees.

    The Jules Bianchi Accident Panel recognised this weakness 6 years ago. As well as obvious recommendations on flag signals and speed control which were quickly addressed, they made a recommendation which has never been publically addressed.

    6. F1 risk review
    Consideration will be given to a review of F1 risk, in order to ascertain whether there are any significant holes in the safety defences, such that an unforeseen combination of circumstances could result in a serious accident.

    Whilst this was partially driven by a specific part of the accident, the generality seems to recognise the general weakness of FIA Safety culture compared to Major Hazard Industries Safety Management and Legislation. F1 is a large complex organisation, but so is an Aircraft/Airline, a Chemical Works, an Offshore Production Platform, Nuclear Powerstation, a Railway Operator.

    For decades these entities have legally required, not just a safety management system, but a Safety Report which demonstrates HOW it reduces RISK to a TOLERABLE level. This usually includes
    Identification of Hazards and how they happen
    Assessment of the Risk (likelihood) of Hazards occurring, and
    Control by elimination, reduction or mitigation of Risk to a Tolerable Level.

    After decades of compliance across many industries there is a vast range of methods and tools to develop a suitable and sufficient assessment. Yes some areas of motor racing are very specific, but beginning the industrial exercises quickly generated the required specific data and has built on it.

    Jean Todt has said, again, there will be more emphasis on increasing safety following this crash. Perhaps he should look at a 6 year old AP report first.

    1. Halo was always driven by a loose wheel impact such as Henry Surtees.

      That is just not true. They had a public presentation where they explained that they investigated the impact of the halo on various types of incidents that had happened in the past. It is true that this specific type of crash was not mentioned, but it is a very rare one.

    2. John Ballantyne Ballantyne
      22nd December 2020, 6:21

      Is anybody ever going to mention the three-layer Armco ?

  2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    21st December 2020, 15:40

    Note at no point does Tilke concede the design of the track and position of the guard rails might be a factor. I believe it is.

    First off the angle of impact is about 30 degrees, not 90. The angle of the car at the point of impact was almost 90 degrees, but this is a different thing. The reason the guardrail was penetrated was because of the force of the impact an the fact the nose hit first and it hit a spot between two levels of the Aramco.

    Second why was the guardrail angled like this? If you draw a straight line form the Armaco on the inside of the preceding corner you end up with a line at about 5 degrees max from straight (I realise there is another turn for a shorter circuit, but this affects the safety of the main circuit so there is a problem here).

    Had Grosjean hit at 5 to 8 degrees as then this wouldn’t have happened.

    Tilke and the FIA inspectors may be in large part to blame for the severity of the accident, but guess what? I don’t think that will be the finding of the investigation!

    1. I agree, there is no need for the sharp angled barrier like this on a straight. The entry could be much less of an angle.

      Once again I really hope they don’t forget the actual cause of the accident, the age old mirrors stuck onto modern machines. I mean think about it, all the tech in those engines and the mirrors are as per the 19th century, F1 can do better.

      1. The truth is that I had not thought of that in this case, but you are absolutely right. On Spanish television Pedro De La Rosa has explained many times that the mirrors are practically useless. At most you can see shadows, colors, car parts, but it is very difficult to judge the situation of the car behind by what you see in the rear view mirror. The truth is that it has a very easy solution. A small wide-angle camera at the rear of the car and a small screen on or behind the steering wheel on the dashboard.

        I don’t know if this would have prevented Grosjean’s accident, because even with better visibility, on a start of a race, with so many cars around and having to react quickly, you might not have time to look at the screen (as at the rear-view mirror), but for another kind of situations would be very helpful.

    2. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk To me it looks like angle of the barrier is a compromise. If the angle is too shallow then the number of egress points on the straight decreases (could impact time critical safety such as fires as fewer points for marshalls to easily get on the track) but conversely having too many egress points makes the angles sharper.

      However whatever angle you have the barriers, there is always a chance of a perpendicular type impact, although this should decrease if the angle is shallower.

      This is not to say that improvements aren’t possible with respect to the barriers but I think there is more to it than that.

      I am with @john-h when he says that general visibility from the car is more to blame. As much as we don’t want to say it, Grosjean did cut across Kvyat and of the impact was much more innocuous chances are that we would be more openly critical of Grosjean’s driving.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        22nd December 2020, 11:30

        I agree with you and @john-h, there is a problem with rear visibility. Absolutely this is part of the cause and should be addressed, but Tilke’s comments focussed on the severity of the accident and not the cause. Another day the cause might have been a mechanical failure for example. The safety aspects of the track must be designed assuming a car can leave the track at high speed at any point, regardless of cause.

  3. Maybe we’ll get to a situation where they decide that for high energy events such as F1 Armco barriers need to be angled slightly away from the track rather than parallel on the straights. This would reduce the angle of incidence upon an impact where a car is coming across the track and also deflect energy further “up” the barrier rather than back out onto the circuit (which might’ve been an issue last year also).

    You might then say that if all the barriers are sloping away from the circuit (with the flow) you’d run out of room or not be able to protect the entrances. I think at those points where you would need to cut back towards the circuit they should mandate additional protection such as tyre walling and tecpro barriers to absorb energy as it’s not always going to be possible to push that energy further along the barrier.

    1. @alec-glen here it was actually angled a bit towards the track to give space for the access route behind it – of course, theoretically it could be made the way you say, with the barrier later on the straight angled correspondingly.

      Martin Elliott I know this has been a particular issue for you for years (since before the report you rightfully mention), and it’s rather sad that this post could probably have been used most unchanged all those years ago.

      @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk yeah, Tilke does come across rather defensively doesn’t he! As to why the barrier was angled as it was, see above, though as I concede, that doesn’t mean it was the best/right decision.

      Yes Tilke is right that a lot of this stuff is about deciding on the best compromise (hard to believe money was as important a factor at this track as it might have been on some others) and I hope the report from the FIA discusses the trade offs, as well as whether the original design is still the best way to go (which if not Tilke might not be to blame for, if what was done at the time was a reasonable choice). We can only hope that all aspects of that report are taken in and lead to improvement.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        21st December 2020, 17:29

        Hear what you say regards the access road @bosyber, but even so the angle is much more than needed.

        Click to see my image

        1. Yep, other choices could easily have been made there @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk

  4. I’m certain any changes or improvements the FIA tells them to do, they will do.

  5. With Grosjean’s angle of impact, it would have been better if there had been a force retarder in front of the guardrail, for instance a stack of tyres,” said Tilke. “In other impacts, however, this could be counterproductive because the car can get caught in them.

    I don’t understand why the FIA don’t utilize the SAFER barrier around tracks. This barrier includes a force retarder in front of a guardrail/wall but importantly also has a smooth sheet of steel tied to the force retarding system so cars do not get caught in it. It has worked incredibly well in IndyCar and NASCAR and no doubt saved multiple lives.

    Also as some others mentioned, having a track design that does not include guardrails angled into the track should be a pretty simple fix. They can still have the gaps to allow workers to remove cars but the guardrails should always be angled away from the track if they need to be angled.

  6. The biggest risk factor in this crash was Grosjean’s driving. He recklessly swerved from one of the track to the other in traffic.

    1. If he didn’t swerve left, all of this wouldn’t have happened. If he swerved left, but the barrier doesn’t break, we wouldn’t have seen something horrible.
      That’s it.

  7. As expected not a word on how there came to be an angled wall there. Just platitudes. He even says that if had been a normally angled wall that the car would have ‘scraped’ along, and that it might have been a good idea to put tyres in front of the angled wall. Not why escape roads are designed so that they present angled walls to speeding cars.

    The FIA report is going to be exactly the same. It’s just how the world works.

  8. Nothing that we haven’t said. I was hoping to hear, explicitly that Romain’s dangerous driving caused the crash.

    1. Gotta say this again:
      “If he didn’t swerve left, all of this wouldn’t have happened. If he swerved left, but the barrier doesn’t break, we wouldn’t have seen something horrible.”

      1. Coventry Climax
        22nd December 2020, 18:39

        And again I don’t understand your comment. He did not swerve left, he swerved right, to avoid what was further ahead. Grosjean misjudged however, which is in his genes. The jumble was still a long way ahead, so there was no need for a ‘split second decision’ and he just turned to the right without checking or having any ‘sixth’ sense (spatial awareness) of where Kvyat was. According to his own account, he’d just passed Kvyat. His genes spell ‘not suitable to drive an F1 car’.
        Secondly, it’s nothing new that both Tilke and the FIA will not find blame with themselves.

        1. Apologies, I used the wrong word.

        2. But you probably won’t because I said that he was “Flop Of The Year 2018” two years ago because I was fed up and angry over his driving style.

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