Safety Innovations Star at Bahrain as Grosjean Escapes Fiery Crash

I had a flashback to May 30, 1964, this morning during the Bahrain Grand Prix. The fireball that erupted from Romain Grosjean’s car reminded me of that horrible day at the Indianapolis 500. I saw the entire fiery crash that day from my Tower Terrace seat. Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald died in that crash. Fortunately, thanks to safety innovations, there was a more positive outcome today.

Romain Grosjean (behind guardrail) escapes his burning car. F1 photo

This column is the third iteration of what i had planned to write today. originally, i was going to discuss Romain Grosjean’s possible move to A. J. Foyt Racing in Indycar. When the crash happened, I thought I would be writing a very different story about Grosjean. Now I am happy to be writing about how the halo, maligned for its looks and with doubts of its worth still in some people’s minds, has quieted all the doubters.

The halo did its job. Grosjean encountered three of the things most drivers fear in an accident- a sudden stop, the car going underneath something, and fire. Yet, Grosjean escaped. I am eager to hear his version of the events later this week. Even more miraculous is that his only apparent injuries are burns on his hands.

The safety cell, which surrounds the cockpit, also played a role in keeping Grosjean alive. It remained intact, allowing him the chance to escape.

The remains of the front part of Grosjean’s car. F1 photo

Despite the many advances in driver safety like the halo and the new Indycar aeroscreen, which prevented a more serious outcome in Iowa this summer, racing is still dangerous ans can still have fatal results.John Andretti in Racer, his autobiography, said,”I like that racing is safer. The safety improvements have been good and we need to keep going. But, the perception of the dangers in racing has changed. “Yes, it is safer, but it’s not SAFE. Drivers crash, then thank everyone on Earth for making the sport safe. The media fuels that idea as well. [The fans] believe racing is safer than driving to the grocery store. Let me tell you: it’s not. It’s still very dangerous.”

We may not like the looks of some safety additions to the cars. I still don’t care for the appearance of the Indycar aeroscreen, and at first I thought the F1 halo took away from the sleek look of an F1 machine. I’ve become accustomed to the halo, and I will in time get used to the aeroscreen, which will look better when it is fully integrated onto the new chassis. I am for anything that can save lives and make racing safer. Sometimes function takes precedence over form.

An incident such as we had today doesn’t mean it’s time to relax, or that we have gone as far as we can. There is still room for improvement. I have never seen a car split in half like Grosjean’s car did. It has been quite a while since i have seen an F1 car burst into flames like that . There are still questions to answer.

Racing can take a deep breath that today turned out better than it appeared it was going to, but the sport also needs to keep up its guard to prevent worse incidents.