Zhou feared car would catch fire after it landed between barriers in crash

2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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Zhou Guanyu did not realise his car had landed between two barriers until he saw pictures of his Silverstone crash.

His Alfa Romeo was sent airborne after he tangled with at the start of the British Grand Prix. It skidded though Abbey and into the gravel trap on the halo, before digging in and flipping again, over the tyre barrier and being caught by catch fencing.

“When the flip happened the first thing I was trying to deal with was release my hand off the steering wheel because you never know, you can break your hand very easily with a crash like that,” said Zhou. “The next thing while I was just rolling on the ground, I knew I would be facing a massive impact because the car wasn’t stopping.

“And then I tried to lock myself in a position that is the most safe possible, just waiting for the last impact. So I was just holding my hands back but keeping it reasonably tense so it doesn’t get flying around when you have the last impact.

“So that was the case, basically I was just waiting for the last, stop hit.”

Videos from the crash showed Zhou’s engine still running when the car landed. “Once I was basically stopped I didn’t know where I was because I was upside down and the next thing I felt was there was some leaking,” he explained.

He was concerned the leakage could cause a fire. “I wasn’t sure if it was from my body or the car,” he said.

“So I just tried to switch the engine off because the engine was still on [and] I knew if a fire starts it would be difficult to get out. So I switched my engine off.”

Zhou said that he now believes what he thought was liquid was numbness caused by the impact. “It wasn’t hurting, but it was very cold on that side. So I don’t know if it’s just the blood and not feeling anymore or something. I was just making sure.

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“I was more worried about if the engine caught on fire because in that position you’re really stuck, even though I don’t know [if I could have got out] between the fence but you have to wait for them to get you down to get out.”

Zhou remembered speaking to the marshals and medical team members who arrived at the crash scene. “He was obviously making a conversation with me, he was just making sure I was conscious, everything okay, that I could remember what happened.

Members of the crowd shouted to Zhou to check on him but he said while he was trapped in the car he could not hear them, or George Russell, who had run over to try to help. “I couldn’t hear anyone, mostly probably the crowd when I finished getting out but by then I couldn’t hear much. It was just that one medical guy was making conversation.”

He said that the full scale of the crash did not strike him until “maybe afterwards, when I [was] out of medical centre” and saw replays of the crash. “Because I didn’t realise I was inside the barriers, I was thinking I was next to the barriers.

“I was actually between the barrier and the fence, which was – I don’t know how I survived but then looking back, obviously the halo, I saw, saved me.”

“I managed to get myself kind of out and the medical [them] put me into the medical car,” he explained. “But I only realised that when I saw the incident afterwards.

“I don’t know what happened, who hit me, because I was going straight next to the white line before turn one and suddenly there was a massive shunt.

“I had to kind of slide myself a little bit out so at least to have my leg kind of out of the top of the seat, then they were able to pull me out.”

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2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Hazel Southwell
    Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....
    Claire Cottingham
    Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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    9 comments on “Zhou feared car would catch fire after it landed between barriers in crash”

    1. One thing that a lot of people seem to be ignoring about this crash is that the gravel trap literally flipped the car over and made it take off, with it then skipping the tire barrier completely and just catching the wire fencing.

      I’m fairly neutral when it comes to the topic of gravel or asphalt run-off, but this is something that needs to be pointed out in incidents like this, or when a new circuit with generous asphalt run-off joins the calendar next time around. Just a thought on the topic

      1. The timing of the roll was influenced by the fact that the gravel only started halfway between the track and the wall.
        Had the tarmac extended all the way to the tyre barrier, the car would not have rolled and vaulted, but instead hit the tyre barrier at full speed.
        On the other hand, if the gravel started at the edge of the circuit, then the car would have rolled a few times and scrubbed off most of that inertia before getting to the tyre barrier.

        While it looks pretty spectacular when car rolls or flips in the gravel, it’s far better to be doing that than simply coming to a hard stop.

        1. The car went a good ways through the gravel before it dug in and flipped. I expect the experts to do a proper modeled recreation. But I can’t agree that its obvious more gravel would have been better than less. I also don’t think it’s obvious that it was better to lose energy by one flip and then hit a metal fence than to not flip and go into a barrier specifically designed to dissipate energy. And that is setting aside the risk to fans and the driver of a car vaulting over the tire barrier.

          1. The car likely wouldn’t have vaulted over anything if the gravel were at the track limit, though, @dmw. It would have been going much slower by the time it got that close to the tyre wall.

            It’s simply one of those realities that no two incidents are ever exactly alike. In some cases, gravel far exceeds tarmac for safety – but in other cases, tarmac is indisputably better. Sometimes it’s impossible to know either way, although experience and educated guesswork certainly doesn’t hurt.

            In this particular case – more gravel is the winner for me, as it dissipates energy over the longest distance and time.
            A lot longer than any tyre barrier or TecPro ever can.

            1. And I’d guess the quality of the gravels matter in the outcome as well. Not exactly the same, but I read MotoGP rider interviews this years saying how bad it was to fall at Portimao and how much better it was at Le Mans for example. Obviously drivers don’t fall into the gravel, but it must play a factor in how much it slows the car, if it digs down or not and if it can throw the car into the air – although with a car arriving into the gravel upside down is not a scenario that can easily be taken into account…

          2. It was the asfalt border just before the barrier which the car caught and flipped. If it was all gravel the car would end in the barrier…

      2. Erzen, yes, people are saying the halo did a great job, and ignoring the great job the gravel did too. Digging into the gravel uses up so much energy. Remember the car skidded over a hundred meters on tarmac and barely slowed down. More asphalt run-off would not have helped in this instance. But just one third of that distance on gravel slowed it to survivable speed. The gravel acts like a thick liquid. The shock of impact deforms it, compresses it, sends shock waves rippling out through all directions, the same way that the foam padding inside a helmet deforms and dissipates shock. And once the car started rolling, every roll dissipated more energy, every piece of gravel that was picked up and thrown into the air is dissipating energy. Have you ever watched World’s Strongest Man competitions where they have the monster tyre flip? Yes, the tyres are heavy to begin with, but flipping it over end to end uses up far more energy than simply carrying it or dragging it. When the F1 car rolls, it is also using up energy, picking up those heavy F1 tyres and engine block burns off far more energy than sliding. Rolling looks dramatic but it is much safer than just smashing into a barrier.

    2. He was concerned the leakage could cause a fire. “I wasn’t sure if it was from my body or the car,” he said.

      And I have to worry about getting staffed on a meeting last minute with no prep.

    3. Do we know how long he was stuck in the car before they got him out?

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