Romain Grosjean, Haas, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Grosjean wants to understand why he didn’t pass out in Bahrain crash

2020 F1 season

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Romain Grosjean believes important lessons can be learned from his fiery crash in Bahrain last month, starting with why he didn’t pass out in the huge impact.

The FIA is investigating Grosjean’s enormous crash which occured on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix following contact between his Haas and Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri.

Grosjean’s chassis was ripped in two when it struck a guardrail at over 53G. The barrier gave way and his car caught fire. The driver was able to free himself and escape from the conflagration within 28 seconds of the crash occuring.

Speaking in a video released on social media Grosjean said some “grey areas” remain over exactly what happened in the crash. He said the fact he did not pass out, despite the severity of the impact, was crucial to his survival.

“[In a] 60G impact, you should lose consciousness,” he said. “You should lose consciousness even for a few seconds.”

Grosjean has previously described how he feared for his life as he struggled to escape from his burning car.

“You shouldn’t be as aware as I was. And that saved my life. But I would like us to understand, with sensors on the brain when there’s an incident, what can we do better on the helmet and headrest and safety and everything that the driver, even with a big impact, stays well conscious and well aware of whatever he has to do.”

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F1 can learn “many more” lessons from the crash, Grosjean believes. “There are many things we learn from an incident. In my case we are lucky that I am alive, that I can talk and that I remember everything.

How Grosjean’s helmet helped keep him alive in Bahrain fireball crash
“I’m not sure it’s a good thing for me, but I do remember everything and I believe some grey areas from safety in motorsport already have been kind of understood, and I see more.”

Almost a month on from the crash, Grosjean’s burned left hand is still in bandages. He says recent innovations in safety technology including the Halo, stronger chassis and fire-resistant clothing are why his injuries were not even worse.

“Without the Halo – and it’s not big news that I was completely against the Halo when it came into Formula 1 – I wouldn’t be here to talk to you. I think that was one of the biggest safety measures brought in the last few years.

“Also the overalls, this year the regulation has been changed for fire resistance and brought up by 10 seconds. The regulations say 20 seconds, I stayed 28 seconds into the flames, escaping with a minor burn on my right hand and a bit more severe – but nothing too bad – on my left hand.

“The strength of the chassis is coming up every year and it stayed in one piece and the monocoque protected me. I was still able to escape and to get out of the flames. If the chassis would have been broken, legs would have been gone, broken, whatever, I wouldn’t have been able to stand up and walk out.”

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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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36 comments on “Grosjean wants to understand why he didn’t pass out in Bahrain crash”

  1. I’d be curious as to how he could still breath, fire consumes a huge amount of oxygen, I would have guessed (having not sat in a fire like that myself), that you’d pass out from oxygen starvation eventually, but obviously not.

    1. *breathe

    2. @bernasaurus I think it had something to do with the helmet. It was mentioned in Deiter’s article about the Bell helmets that his helmet kept out the hot gases.

      Pretty remarkable either way, incredible even.

      1. The helmet has enough air in it for a minute or so, it only breathes when the visor is open or when in an airstream. During the fire no smoke entered unless the visor was opened.

        1. Well that is incredible, thanks for sharing

    3. I’m also curious about that. In the old days they had oxygene supply attached to their helmet (and often that tube would prevent a quick exit from the car).

      But nowadays we don’t see that anymore. Is there a oxygene supply built-in the helmet?

      1. @marcusaurelius whilst drivers were given an air supply in the 1970s through to the 1990s, Sid Watkins argued against it in the 1990s and they were removed during the 1990s (and it wasn’t pure oxygen either, but simply regular air – pure oxygen would be more of a hazard than a help in a fire).

        Whilst the air supply had some value in the 1970s and 1980s when barriers were quite poorly designed – especially catch fencing, which had a tendency to trap drivers in the car – by the 1990s those barriers were gone and most barriers were now being redesigned to reduce those problems.

        What Watkins found was that, in practice, it was much more effective if better measures were put in place to minimise the risk of a fire occurring – that way, the medical staff could get to work on assessing a driver’s condition and stabilising them far more quickly.

        You also note one reason why Watkins argued against the use of air lines, which was because it made it more difficult to get a driver out of the cockpit – and, if a driver really was in that much trouble, then they’d be better off getting out of the cockpit as quickly as possible.

        Overall, it was found that getting medical personnel to the driver more quickly by reducing the risk of a fire breaking out in the first place, and then being able to move the driver from the car more quickly if needed, was more beneficial than the air lines, particularly as the main benefit for having them was largely negated by changes in circuit safety barriers.

        1. Thank you. So there is no longer an oxygene or air supply in the helmets anymore. Still, it would be cool with todays technology.

    4. I mean, it doesn’t consume the oxygen already in your body, you can hold your breath for way longer than the time Grosjean was in that fire, especially with a load of adrenaline surging through your body.

      I also think the adrenaline from just racing a first lap of F1 will have been a contributing factor to why he didn’t pass out.

      1. I doubt that a large jolt of adrenaline would help you hold your breath – quite the opposite.

        Also, I think the fact that the car’s orientation was angled head-on into the barrier would help prevent him passing out, as I suspect that having the helmet movement stopped by the HANS device is a much more gentle deceleration than it being stopped by the foam padding on the side, particularly for extremely high car G-forces like this. The HANS device can just keep stretching in a linear manner, whereas the foam’s stiffness will tend to increase the more it is compressed. I’d like to see them increase the thickness of the foam (and maybe make it a bit softer) to compensate for this non-linearity, as it’s very clear than a side impact is currently a lot more serious than a head-on one. Stroll didn’t seem to appreciate his nasty crash in Mugello.

        1. It is usually a combination of factors. No doubt the point you highlighted, HANS, would have played a key role in his staying conscious. The barrier also crumbled, split then wedged the car, which would have reduced the effects of the impact. You can not discountenance the effect of adrenaline. Start of race adrenaline flow would have kept him very alert, unlike if it was middle of the race when things have settled down.
          As we look deeper and deeper into the details, we begin to notice even more factors that played a role in his survival.

          1. I agree that adrenaline would help prevent him pass out, but was disagreeing that it would help him hold his breath in the fire.
            The crumpling of the barrier did not help prevent him passing out in a 55g impact. I just helped limit that impact to ‘only’ 55g.

            I just watched a brilliant film on Amazon Prime called Yellow Yellow Yellow about Indycar’s safety crew that travel to all the races. F1 could benefit from learning from them. For example, all the drivers wear custom earphones which not only have the radio speakers, but also record the G forces on the driver’s head, which is much more useful than the G-force on the car which I think F1 is limited to.

          2. Alesici, F1 drivers have had earpieces with an accelerometer fitted inside it since at least 2014 (when the FIA made it mandatory), which came on the back of a research project that the FIA initiated in the early 2010s – it’s quite likely that both series are probably using the same supplier.

  2. How much of it is all in ones mind. No two examples a like. Different to each one of us. Some things aren’t meant to be explained. His awareness through the incident was the oddest part of all. I think it’s fate and when your numbers up it’s usually up. But in the case of RG perhaps the fire was the start of his life’s mission. He was meant to help those in need by the power of his amazing mindset especially considering the sickening event we witnessed. His calling has begun. His racing career was the catalyst to experience his calling. He will spend the rest of his life telling this tale of his own fate and what he does with that opportunity.

    1. I disagree with this completely. It has nothing to do with fate, but with our brains being wonderful constructions of biology. It is well documented that time “slows down” when we are in dangerous situations. This is part of our survival instincts, the brain activates when in danger and becomes hyper-aware, this gives the perception of time slowing down because you go in a sort of overdrive so you have “more time” to react to what’s happening.

      You can find many reports and even scientific studies on this phenomenon that occurs during car crashes, falls, etc.

      1. Here is one such study that explains in detail how time perception changes and why during accidents:

      2. He really doesn’t say much does he but I remember a mate who had a huge accident on his motorbike, he said when they happen quick you’re in trouble. He’s went into the trees at 70mph and said he almost felt he was still plotting his course as the trees whizzed by

      3. It’s completely up to fate my friend. He survived to have a new destiny or new fate in life. He won’t be driving Grand Prix cars so his fate WAS changed by the moments such a horrific thing to witness but to actually be inside of such a life changing moment. You have your opinion. Fate actually made you respond to fate as I see it. So what’s the big deal Al ?

    2. According to Brundle all the onboard cameras continued working inc the one looking back at the driver. And the footage exactly matches Grosjeans narrative. He remembered everything exaclty as it happened.

  3. I wonder where there sensors that say 54g are located. Obviously there’s a big difference between the force on the nose cone and by the time the driver stops, even if it is only a fraction of a second delay.

    1. I wonder where there sensors that say 54g are located.

      I understand that the drivers have a g-sensor in their ear-piece, @glynh.
      Not sure if the 54G reading came from that one.

    2. I don’t think you quite grasp how g-forces would interact in this scenario.

  4. There’s quite a good animated reconstruction of the event on youtube last couple of days. Not sure where the 60G figure comes from (calc or sensor, if sensor then on what part of the car?) but it looks like the compliance of the fence’s rapid unexpected disassembly would have softened the blow for the monocoque. What I do find remarkable was how his feet/legs were protected by that beautifully engineered structure and how lucky he was that the top Armco rail didn’t block exit – some great design and quite some luck.

  5. 53g is a lot, perhaps that peak was brief. Great question.
    Romain is apparently very weary of the dangers of motorsports yet he caused his own accident. Most of Romain’s big crashes were caused by Romain.
    Does Grosjean question why does he puts himself and others in such danger? That is a really great question as well.
    Just saying.

    1. Not the time or the place, yet again.

      1. @john-h why not?
        Romain is scared of ovals, he said he did not consider Indy over the ovals. ovals are mega scary. A week later he caused a massive crash that could have been very costly. Romain paradoxically drives dangerously, at least in f1. Sounds like a conundrum to me. I think Romain must get to the bottom of that, especially if he keeps racing.
        I think it is a valid question too.

        1. I completely agree that Grosjean is a danger to himself and others, but he’s talking about the impact of the crash and lessons to be learned from it which are completely valid. Why did he not pass out, what can be done to improve barrier safety, HANS, monocoque, etc.
          Sure we can have another dig at him as a driver, but that’s not the point of the article. Anyway, maybe I shouldn’t bother.

    2. So you’re thinking that Romain tried to let himself go?…

  6. Easy GRO it’s called “Titanium” in the Halo. Old Armco was no match for Titanium.

    1. Grosjean has some questions, but how the halo managed to help cleave through the Armco barrier is not one of them.

  7. Grosjean has discovered the limelight.

    1. It’s an interesting conversation to have. I was speaking so a fellow engineer about this accident and his answer first off was that’s impossible to stay conscious through that. His second thought on the issue was that every sensor has an error and the sensor reading may have been out slightly. So his theory was that grosjean didn’t hit 53g of deceleration but in fact a tad less and hence he was conscious. The sensor measured 53 and triggered the chassis warning lights etc and the associated medical precautions.

  8. Good article. It is somewhat of a mystery. IndyCar regularly has much higher oval impacts and guys generally climb out of the car on their own (Dixon flying crash at Indy 2017). The cars are built to withstand very high impacts though. Kenny Bräck’s gigantic accident at Texas in 2003 was recorded at 214G! He was seriously injured and nearly died, but has been a McLaren Cars test driver for years now.

  9. As much as people love to thank the halo its part of the reason grosjean was stuck there for so long, if grosjean had passed out how long would he have been stuck in the fire for then

    1. If the halo hadn’t been present our discussion right now would be about a decapitated driver. And lets be clear it wouldn’t have been a clean cut, it would have been ripped off.

  10. So it’s clear that Romain tried to let himself go which I never wanted him to do…

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