Mark Hughes: Grosjean's Bahrain crash was most terrifying F1 moment for 40 years

“F1 cars don’t explode on impact any more. Yet here it was happening. Live” — Romain Grosjean's 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix crash

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You may have read our interview with Romain Grosjean in last month’s issue as he reflected on approaching the last three races of his F1 career. If he but knew it, he had only three corners of one race left to go. His fireball accident on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix was the most terrifying thing F1 has witnessed in the last four decades. In those milliseconds after the eruption in the opening moments of the race it was difficult for the brain to compute what the eyes were informing it of. Because this was a Hollywood props-department accident, done without the knowledge that F1 cars don’t explode on impact any more. That stuff was fixed many decades ago. Yet here it was happening. Live.

There is something deep in our psyche, some ancient DNA, that makes fire especially horrifying and – speaking only for myself but I’m sure it’s not a unique feeling – some part us was in there with him, willing him to get out. The replay made it quite clear that the car had gone through the metal barrier and we could see plainly what sort of impact speed it was. It seemed that
the chances of him being a) uninjured and b) conscious amid that ball of flame were slight. Even just witnessing it on screen, it was emotionally overwhelming. He was about to be consumed by the flames. He seemed to have been in there an age.

Remarkably, he was both uninjured and conscious. He was uninjured thanks to the crash-worthiness of the car’s survival cell, perhaps by the fact that the rear of the car broke away as the front pivoted around a metal post, so that the engine’s weight multiplied by the g loading didn’t reach the cockpit.