Fortunately, the halo, which protects the driver’s head, resisted.
We could see the incredible inertia of these cars. Guanyu Zhou’s Sauber Alfa Romeo slid for a long time, an estimated distance of 200 meters, surfed on the gravel of the ferry (it should slow it down) as if it didn’t exist and was catapulted onto six rows of protective tires.
Fortunately, the fence was the last protection that made it possible to avoid the catastrophe, because the car stopped one meter from the public sitting in the steps at the corner of the Abbey (corner 1 since 2011).
The FIA, in charge of safety in F1, has opened an investigation. He must carefully analyze and eliminate the safety deficiencies in the sequence of the incident.
First of all it will be necessary to consider the solidity of the roll bar of the single-seater of the Swiss team. Not the halo, but the bow, this ultra-resistant piece created in the late 1960s and imposed in 1978.
The roll bar is an integral part of the survival cell (the indestructible cabin that protects the driver’s body), and should theoretically prevent the helmet from touching the track if the car overturns. The arch is called the in English
roll on the circle.
The regulation provides since 1978 that the survival cell is equipped with a roll bar placed 5 centimeters above the driver’s helmet.
It is also surprising to mention that the roll cage was until 1983 the only part of F1 that had to be approved by a full-fledged engineer.
Since 1989, the arch has been integrated into the single-seater engine hood air intake.
In the 2010s, teams took the development of these air intakes for aerodynamic purposes very far to the point that the FIA had to curb the imagination of engineers by imposing stricter endurance tests on the roll bar.
The roll bar of the Alfa Romeo C42 is not of the conventional type, but in the shape of a vertical blade. It is the only team this season to use this type of roll bar. He had abandoned it in 2020 and 2021.
The bladed roll cage was used by Mercedes-Benz in 2010. At the time, the FIA feared that this structure would sink into the ground (depending on the surface of course), and imposed wider blades.
The choice of the vertical blade allows an aerodynamic gain and an increase in weight.
The image of the car on the trailer is shocking. The roll bar has completely disappeared and the halo has taken over.
The FIA, which will have access to all telemetry data and all parts of the damaged Alfa Romeo Sauber, will allow it to determine whether the vertical-blade roll cage has failed too easily in the circumstances.
The roll bar must be capable of supporting a lateral load of 6123 kg, a longitudinal force of 7138 kg and a vertical force of 10,707 kg.
The specialized press already claims that the roll bar has suffered a side impact far beyond what is required by the regulation, touching the ground in full rotation perpendicular to the trajectory.
It’s up to the FIA
The FIA will likely ban the vertical blade roll cage in 2023, and may require all teams to integrate the halo into the roll cage structure in 2024.
In fact, it seems that the Alfa Romeo Sauber’s roll bar absorbed most of the impact energy and disintegrated. The halo alone may not hold up. How to know?
We remind you that the halo was created in 2015 (and imposed in 2018) not to protect the driver’s head in the event of his car overturning, but to protect the driver from any object that could hit him in the face, a tire, a piece mechanic or bodywork debris.
The image of Felipe Massa disfigured after receiving a suspension spring in the center of the helmet in 2009 remained etched in our memories and forced the FIA to think about an additional element of protection in the cockpit.
The halo is the result of this six-year reflection, it is designed to deflect a 20-pound wheel launched at more than 220 km / h (according to FIA tests carried out).
Also, during Sunday’s British Grand Prix, the halo did its job on lap 3.
A drift from the front wing of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari hit the aura of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull head-on. The Dutchman was not hit by the well-identified flying object.
In light of the accident from which Guanyu Zhou miraculously emerged unscathed, the FIA will clearly have to redo the tasks in terms of active safety, both by reviewing the stress tests (crash test) of the safety arch of the engine air intake.
Is it a design flaw in the Alfa Romeo Sauber C42? However, this car has successfully passed all the endurance tests required by the FIA before being able to drive.
Then the federation will have to redo the tasks also in terms of passive safety, or to review the safety of the curves of the circuits used by F1.
The Silverstone circuit showed a weakness at Turn 1 on Sunday (since the finish was moved to 2011), the Abbey Turn.
If there had been no fence, the car would have stopped running against the steps just behind. Fortunately, there was no one behind the protective tires (track staff or photographer).
Do the tires need to be glued to the fence? Do the protective tires need to be doubled in height? Furthermore, the FIA may take this opportunity to ask the BRDC (British pilots club), owner of the Silverstone circuit, to replace the old tires with the new Tecpro barriers, which we see everywhere, including the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit.
Should we move back the steps, which are already very far from the runway? Remember that even a fence doesn’t necessarily stop a car as its inertia can push it to an unsuspected force.
Talk to Patrick Carpentier who went through a similar misadventure in Laguna Seca, California, in 2000 …
The evacuation area to be reviewed
Count on the BRDC to make the necessary corrections.
It will clearly be necessary to revise the free zone of the Abbey curve, to revise the position of the fence so that a car does not crash to the ground behind the tires, making it difficult for the driver to be extracted.
The one that unearthed British pilot George Russell, after rushing to the crash site to try to help his colleague.
In this position, Guanyu was completely a prisoner of his car, he noted. You have to think about how to prevent a car from falling into such a small space. He couldn’t get out of his car.
Remember that Russell is director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA).
We dare not imagine the scene if the fuel tank (a deformable Kevlar skin placed behind the driver’s seat) had burst, pierced by a piece of the car, and if the fuel had caught fire. The driver would not have had any chance to get out of his car by himself and quickly.
It is always frustrating to see that it takes incidents like the one at Guanyu Zhou on Sunday at Silverstone for safety, active or passive, to be revised and corrected.
But that’s the way it is in motor racing. The methodical inspections of circuits and cars by FIA experts obviously cannot see and predict everything.