2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Report: Hamilton Wins After Grosjean Escapes Fiery Crash
A truly terrifying moment, but ultimately a miracle escape and a triumph for the halo.
Lewis Hamilton produced another commanding performance to add an 11th victory to his tally in 2020 and match his personal best in one year despite this truncated season.
But that was not the headline news from Bahrain.
Just three corners into the race, Romain Grosjean speared into the barriers and, upon impact, produced a fireball the likes of which had not been seen in the last three decades of Formula 1.
Grosjean was towards the back of the field as the cars emerged from the first sequence of corners and could see chaos developing in front of him.
Lance Stroll had run well off the track and was bouncing back on from the right-hand side, Kimi Räikkönen was at least as far off the track to the left, coming perilously close to the barriers, and Lando Norris was showering those behind him with sparks from a damaged front wing after contact with Esteban Ocon.
Grosjean's explanation will hopefully shed more light on the situation eventually, but it would appear that he saw an opportunity to the right of the pack on the run down to Turn 4. Crucially, though, Daniil Kvyat was seemingly in his blind spot. The Frenchman cut across sharply, leaving the AlphaTauri no chance of avoiding contact, and was sent into the barriers in a manner akin to the US police 'PIT maneuver'.
The twisted remains of the barrier and monocoque. (Photo: autoblog.it.)
The Haas somehow pierced the barrier and split in two behind the driver, leaving the cockpit embedded in the twisted metal. Grosjean miraculously extricated himself from the inferno and a relieved audience was eventually shown images of him sat in the medical car, after a harrowing two-minute period without any information.
The drivers' on-board footage showed numerous double-takes as they spotted the huge blaze in their mirrors and Charles Leclerc's radio, in particular, reflected the feelings of most watching on.
Grosjean spent the night in hospital under observation as a precaution, but his injuries appear to be limited to second-degree burns to his hands and feet. Without doubt, the best-case scenario considering the ferocity of the incident.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
After a delay of over an hour, whilst the wreckage was dealt with and a new barrier installed, the drivers lined up for a second time.
The order for the second grid was taken from the order at Safety Car Line 2 during the original start. A poor getaway had dropped Valtteri Bottas from second to fourth, with Max Verstappen taking that second place, Sergio Pérez up from fifth to third, and Norris up from ninth to seventh.
As he had done at the first time of asking, Hamilton took off from pole position like a rocket and left the rest of the field in his wake. Behind him, most of the drivers held their starting positions, but there would be barely half a lap of racing before another incident brought out the safety car.
The flipped Racing Point of Lance Stroll... (Photo: eurosport.co.uk.)
Kvyat was unfortunately involved again, as a clumsy move up the inside of Stroll resulted in front-to-rear tyre contact and the Racing Point being pitched upside down. Thankfully the Canadian was unhurt and able to climb out, but his run of poor luck - dating back to that tyre failure in Tuscany - continues.
There were no issues for Hamilton at the restart and, from there on, it was simply a case of managing his tyres and keeping the chasing Verstappen at bay. The gap between the two would stick at around five seconds for the remainder of the race, with Verstappen frustrated by some of his team's strategic decisions but aware that they would likely always have struggled to threaten the World Champion.
Bottas's day went from bad to worse as he picked up a puncture during the safety car period and dropped to the back of the field. Not for the first time this season, he struggled to make progress through the midfield and ultimately came home eighth; Verstappen has now reduced his deficit in the drivers' standings to just 12 points.
Pérez looked to be en route to a second consecutive podium, only for his engine to fail in fairly spectacular fashion with just a handful of laps remaining. A disaster for Racing Point in their battle for third in the championship, with the retirement promoting the McLarens of Norris and Carlos Sainz to fourth and fifth - an impressive recovery from the Spaniard who had started 15th after a brake failure in qualifying. Pérez's misfortune also saw Alexander Albon inherit a spot on the final step of the podium and a much-needed boost in his quest for a Red Bull seat next year.
...and the flaming Racing Point of Sergio Pérez. (Photo: f1hotornot.com.)
For the second time, a stranded Racing Point brought out the safety car, under which the race would finish, but not before there was one final, unnerving moment as a marshal ran across the track in front of Lando Norris. At points, things had started to feel a little too reminiscent of Imola 1994 and it was honestly a relief to see the chequered flag wave with all the drivers and crew intact.
A TRIUMPH FOR F1 SAFETY?
Romain Grosjean was able to suffer a 137mph crash - the instant retardation producing an impact measured at a force of 53G - and then immediately crawl from a pile of burning wreckage to safety. That is thanks to years of tireless research and hard work in the pursuit of safety in Formula 1.
Any remaining debate around the halo was emphatically put to bed as it quite clearly saved a life. The photos of the scraped top surface show how Grosjean's halo effectively parted the gap in the barriers, as the front half of the Haas acted as a £10 million can opener, and spared his helmet that impossible job.
The ever-improving fireproof overalls now provide around 30 seconds of protection and, thankfully, the Frenchman was able to haul himself clear in around 28. Long-term saviours in the shape of the titanium safety cell around the cockpit and the HANS device also played crucial roles in this modern-day miracle.
That being said, this was not quite the unanimous triumph for f1 safety that some have painted it to be.
It was absolutely a freak accident, but questions must be asked about both the quality and placement of the guardrails. We have not seen a car spear through a barrier since the 70s. That situation infamously resulted in the tragic deaths of François Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg in consecutive years at Watkins Glen.
Also, were Grosjean not to have miraculously remained conscious after the initial impact, would the medical team have been able to do enough? FIA doctor Ian Roberts and medical car driver Alan van der Merwe are rightly being lauded for their rapid response and brave contribution, but had Grosjean been unconscious and still strapped into the car, would they have been able to extract him when they aren't kitted out with even a full-face helmet themselves?
We can, at least, be sure that Formula 1 and the FIA will investigate these matters and learn from any mistakes, as they have done after every major incident in the past.
It is those lessons learnt in the past that saved Romain Grosjean's life yesterday and both Professor Sid Watkins and Charlie Whiting can look down with great pride upon their legacy and their hand in this story of survival.