Romain Grosjean crash, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Revealed: Three safety changes coming to F1 cars following Grosjean’s fireball crash

2021 F1 season

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The investigation into Romain Grosjean‘s fiery accident during the opening lap of last November’s Bahrain Grand Prix is nearing publication and will be presented to the FIA World Motorsport Council meeting on March 5th prior to the outcome and recommendations being publicly released, RaceFans understands.

The Haas driver speared through the Bahrain circuit’s turn three barrier at over 240km/h, registering an impact of 53G before erupting in flames. Grosjean escaped with bruising and burnt hands, having initially been unable to escape the inferno due to the headrest becoming dislodged and blocking his egress, and his left (brake) foot being stuck between the deformed pedals.

“I don’t know why I did what I did, but I decided to turn my helmet on the left-hand side and to go up like this and try and twist my shoulder, that sort of works,” he told media including RaceFans during a Zoom call three days after the crash.

“Then I realise my foot is stuck in the car so I sit back down, pull as hard as I can on my left leg, the shoe stayed where my foot was but my foot came out of the shoe. Then I [wriggle] again and the shoulders are going through and this time the shoulder was through [and] I know I’m going to jump out.”

Details of the investigation were shared during last week’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting. A TAC source told RaceFans the primary focus was on three main areas, namely: the cause of the fire, the reason the U-shaped headrest dislodged, and how to improve footwell and pedal protection. Various recommendations were tabled, for both immediate implementation and for inclusion in 2022’s ‘new era’ cars.

Grosjean’s headrest detached in the impact
Photographs of the badly damaged Haas chassis show the left fuel tank hatch – fixed to the chassis and situated under a cover, required to enable access to pumps and valves within the deformable Kevlar fibre fuel bladder – burst open during the crash, causing fuel leakage. FIA regulations require tanks to meet FT5-1999 specifications, and all teams source tanks – to their own designs – from a single supplier, ATL.

In 2019 the FIA introduced a self-scrutineering process whereby teams certify that their cars comply fully with all prevailing regulations. Teams have been advised that full compliance with FT5-1999 will be checked by the FIA during 2021, and that changes will be made to future fuel tank regulations. According to the source a number of teams – potentially as many as four – may need to redesign their hatch fastening systems.

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“Haas F1 Team has always adhered to FIA standards with regards to its car design and build, and in particular safety measures,” a Haas spokesperson told RaceFans. “We are always in full compliance of the regulations and, like all competing teams, we welcome initiatives and improvements to standards issued by the FIA and we implement them accordingly.

One of Grosjean’s boots came off as he escaped his burning car
Haas has a component sourcing agreement with Ferrari, and both teams are said to use the same tank and pedal box designs. Ferrari would not comment when asked by RaceFans, while powertrain customer Sauber’s tank hatch fastening system is believed to be an in-house design.

All teams were approached for comment. A number of them requested anonymity due to safety sensitivities but indicated that their systems complied fully with FT5-1999. Alpine and Red Bull did not respond to requests for comment.

The TAC meeting was further advised that a stringent static load test would in future be applied to U-shaped headrest surrounds to prevent dislodging of the type experienced by Grosjean and during Kevin Magnussen’s practice crash at Eau Rouge at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton’s headrest came loose during the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, forcing him to make a pit stop which ultimately cost him a victory.

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Grosjean has returned to racing in IndyCar
“We have had to make small changes [to the headrest surround], but [ours] was nearly at the required standard – and we believe everybody will have had to make changes,” one team source said speaking on condition of anonymity. Another said: “The 2020 one had to undergo some very minor modifications for the new test, so it’s not a 100% carry-over, but it took only minor changes to be okay.”

Revisions to pedal box assemblies and footwell constructions are also said to be under discussion for 2022, with all teams spoken to by RaceFans expressing their confidence in the FIA’s investigation into the accident, and the subsequent findings and recommendations. “Something good has come from a very bad accident,” said a team source.

The required regulatory changes are expected to be approved by the WMSC, which has exclusive powers to ratify amendments to the rules for bona fide safety reasons without team consent, for incorporation in the 2021 and 2022 F1 regulations.

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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...

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41 comments on “Revealed: Three safety changes coming to F1 cars following Grosjean’s fireball crash”

  1. How about the upper side of the gloves , any possibility to make the upper side a bit thicker? Simona di Silvestro burned her hands a few years ago and now Romain. Is FIA looking into that too? I know the drivers have to turn knobs and stuff on the wheel, but not with the upper side of the gloves.

    1. Max got his hand stuck in the cockpit while turning the wheel. There is very little space, despite a cut-out in the side of the tub for the hands.

      1. If they had to use thicker gloves, it wouldn’t exactly be a complete redesign of the car to make that cut-out slightly larger.

  2. 3 measures regarding prevention of the Immediate Causes of Hazards.

    What about the ROOT CAUSES such as failure of the barrier/car to absorb the energy of the car’s impact. Was the structural failure a good or bad thing? And as we anticipated, self extraction in a fire with a halo!

    Still, we know Accident Panels know what Risk Assessment can be used for to find Root Causes and proper levels of protection rather than simple empirical improvements.

    Jules Bianchi Accident Panel (Reported in 6 weeks !)
    R6 . 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.

    I have never seen any indications of any such review being initiated, let alone reported or acted upon.
    Its not a black art any more. Full Risk Assessment has been a part of industrial legislation for decades, even down to being necessary for complex operations like offshore installations for a permit to operate.

    1. The FIA has an extremely competent safety department as reported here:
      At no stage did we state that these are the ONLY recommendations – simply that there would be three changes to cars coming.

    2. Self-extraction in a fire with the halo proved to be effective, which was good to see (certainly more effective than it would have been without the halo, because the fence would have taken Grosjean’s head off in that case).

  3. I know headrests should stay in place. But what if after the crash his headrest would have been blocked by the broken fence? It would have been impossible for him to twist the shoulder and escape.
    I’m not too religious but let’s say there was some luck in Grosjean’s favor. All the technology saved him, yes, but if the car has not gone through the barrier completely and the broken section of this metallic piece had blocked the halo space, he wouldn’t have been able to survive. Maybe the dislodge of the headrest gave him more space actually. And how on earth did he remain conscious after such a shunt?

    1. Definitely there was a tremendous amount of luck involved in grosjean surviving. But such improbable events are an important source of knowledge and learning to help improve things in the future. That doesn’t mean to say that if someone has a similar accident in future they will now survive – luck will always play a big part, but their chances will be higher. it’s about increasing the number of controllable variables while acknowledging there are some things that remain up to chance.

      1. Indeed, you can’t mitigate for everything which is why they always strive to make everything as safe as it can be but at the end of the day, motorsport is dangerous.

  4. Are the mirrors larger on the 2021 cars? If not I’m very disappointed and surprised. The root cause of the accident was Grosjean not seeing a car in his blind spot. It seems like gross negligence if this has been overlooked.

    1. Advice for rookies from 2021 and onwards: Never swerve all of a sudden.

    2. Ah, blame culture.

      Romain swerved right without knowing if the coast was clear. That’s on him, not the design of the mirrors.

      1. He. Should. Never. Have. Swerved. Also if nothing was wrong with the barrier, the car probably won’t burst into flames.

    3. I think Grosjean has to take some of the blame there as it was pretty apparent he never checked his mirror before violently maneuvering. Also the bigger you make mirrors then the more prone they’ll be to vibration at the speeds and g-forces of a F1 car.

  5. I thought it read 3 changes to the safety car. The car following the pack after race start. Closed helmets, better fire extinguishers etc.. any news on that?

    1. This article covers what was presented to the TAC. That covers race cars omly

      1. Thank you Dieter. A good first step in their endless efforts to increase safety. Amazing what has already been achieved

  6. FT5-1999

    Does that mean that it is from the 20th century? It feels strange that it could be over 20 years old rule.

    1. @qeki Yes, the standard is 22 years old. Fuel tank technology is pretty mature.

  7. The angled wall is the most obvious main reason for the severity of the crash, which of course means it will not be looked into just as Senna’s crash was covered in every way except the hard wall 5 meters from the fastest corner.

    1. I recall Imola had (has) a boundary restriction (not sure why it was insurmountable… maybe a river). That’s not an issue in Bahrain – I’d be surprised if that isn’t changed for this year (do they even need track entry there?).

      1. They can keep the opening but just make the barrier behind the opening go further infield. Right now the barrier after the opening is parallel while before the opening it is angling toward the track.

        Should be easy fix. It’s empty behind the wall.

      2. @didaho The barrier at Tamburello/Imola couldn’t/hasn’t ever been moved as there is indeed a river behind it.

        An irony about Senna’s crash is that he & Gerhard Berger had previously had a close look at the runoff/barrier at Tamburello to see if anything could be done to improve safety. They saw the river behind the wall, Figured it couldn’t be moved & therefore concluded nothing could be done so never raised the issue any further. They never considered pushing for a chicane or anything as back then chicanes weren’t the most popular of things, Especially when it would be taking away the fun high speed stuff drivers (And fans) enjoyed.

        Was also felt that Tamburello & it’s runoff/wall were no more dangerous that other fast corners used at the time. Eau Rouge for instance had far less runoff at the time as did Blanchimont.

    2. Angled wall is a huge factor, especially as there was room to make it parallel to the circuit. Really strange barrier decision.

      But for me, key problem in the crash was the fact that car erupted in flames and even worse, that the fuel tank remained attached to the cockpit instead of breaking away with the engine. If engine was on fire and 10 meters further away (where it ended up), Grosjean would have all the time in the world to climb out.

      1. The reason the barrier is angled is partly for the access road but also because just before is where the short circuit turns off, That is why the barrier doesn’t run parallel to the track from turn 2.

        1. @gt-racer Yup, they should probably work the changes all the way back to the corner – priority for F1 (dismantle if necessary for short circuit use). But at least start the parallel run of the fence as early as possible after the corner before the cars have gathered full stream and delete the Marshall access(es) where Grosjean hit.
          Kimi must have looked at the choke point from the Marshall access on the other side when he was rallying – possibly why Grosjean deviated so far. Put a tunnel under, it’s not like it’s going to be full of water very often?

  8. Referencing this site’s name 6 times in one article…

    Must be some sort of record?

    1. It’s just journalistic convention – Dieter could have written us/we instead, but this is pretty normal.

  9. They could make the nose less pointy and blade-like, so it wouldn’t penetrate the barrier like that. They ought to do that for car-to-car safety anyway, and raise it and make the rear and side impact structures line up with it so they all engage.

    1. The side and rear impact structures engage with the nose crash structure already – everything is already designed to do this. If the barrier fails like that, the fault lies with the barrier design.

  10. Safety will already be much improved with Grosjean not in one of these cars at the start of a race. That swerve was really daft. On the same level as his Spanish donut into the starting pack or his Spa start incident

    1. I agree that he should never have swerved right, but had the barrier been intact, his crash wouldn’t be that bad and his car probably wouldn’t burst into flames.

  11. Grosjean’s injuries were to his hands because of the gap between sleeve and glove, and of course his shoe came off.

    How difficult would it be to make the race suits incorporate the gloves and socks all in one, eliminate that issue without having to rely on an overlap.

    Simple solution to a minor problematic aspect of the fire protection

    1. That’s not true. He has/had burns on knuckles and upper side of the palm (I don’t know how to say it – not native speaker). Gap between sleeve and glove is around wrist and gloves are far over this area together with suit itself.

    2. @marvinthemartian Such a change would make it impossible for some people to put the overall on.

  12. I think they could use dome magnetic barriers so cars would be repelled or maybe out if legos so they would just click to the cars.

  13. Dieter (@dieterrencken) – your arcticles are always fascinating and full of information, thank you! But I have to say as a non-native speaker, they are very hard to read sometimes.

    1. 🤣🤣🤣

      1. What’s so funny? It’s just Dieter is using not-so-common words and sometimes funny syntax as well. It’s just harder to read for someone for whom is english a second language… 🤷

      2. WHAT YOU SAY?!

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