Romain Grosjean crash report: why Haas caught fire & changes to come

F1

The official FIA report into Romain Grosjean's 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix crash has revealed why his car erupted into a fireball, and safety improvements that may avoid it happening again

Romain Grosjean's Haas in flames at the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean's Haas in flames at the Bahrain GP

Grand Prix Photo

The findings of the FIA safety department’s investigation into Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash in the Bahrain GP were released on Friday, and they provide a chilling description of how it unfolded.

In addition to officially confirming a 67g impact at a speed of 192km/h (119mph) there is a lengthy list of conclusions that will help to make our sport safer in the future, and not just at the top level.

Those findings also take into account 18 other circuit racing accidents at all levels in 2020 that were investigated by the FIA, although it’s clear that many of the conclusions are a direct result of the Grosjean incident.

Among the outcomes is a design review into fuel bladders, focused on how they are installed and connected to further reduce the risk of spillage in a crash, after the report found that the fuel tank inspection hatch was dislodged and “the engine fuel supply connection was torn from the fuel tank ‘safety bladder’; both providing primary paths for the escape of fuel from the tank,” and fire to take hold.

“Commitment to reducing risks enabled Grosjean to survive an accident of this magnitude.”

There will be work into improving the heat resistance of gloves, following the burns that Grosjean suffered to his hands, and continued work on the extinguisher system for open cockpit cars.

Grosjean’s crash was caused when he crossed into the path of Daniil Kvyat, catching his right rear wheel on the Russian’s left front. The FIA announced a review of rear-view mirror regulations and will also investigate whether a parking sensor-type proximity warning and other electronic visibility aids — likely to include rear-view cameras — could be effective.

New types of barrier will also be assessed, and there will be more use of software that assesses which types of accidents are likely to happen at each point of a circuit,

The whole process is a reflection of the ongoing safety campaign that was kickstarted by the accidents during the 1994 season, and which has saved many lives in the years since.

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FIA president Jean Todt is rightly proud of the work that has been done over the three months since Grosjean’s crash.

“Important learnings have been drawn from these investigations that will drive our continuous mission to improve safety in F1 and global motor sport,” he says.

“The enduring commitment of the FIA [and] particularly the safety department on reducing risks associated with motor sport enabled Romain Grosjean to maintain consciousness and survive an accident of this magnitude. Safety is and will remain FIA’s top priority.”

“Incidents involving fire of this scale are thankfully rare, so it is very important to learn what we can, including the interaction with the high voltage system,” said FIA Safety Director Adam Baker.

“The efforts of those involved were heroic and have quite rightly been the subject of much praise.

“Following the approval of our findings by the World Motor Sport Council, we will integrate the actions into the ongoing work.”

The areas that the FIA is focusing on are divided into four main categories, relating to vehicles, circuits, driver equipment, and medical/rescue.

 

Vehicles

The summary of the FIA report notes that “due to damage to the survival cell and a number of components within the cockpit environment, Romain Grosjean’s left foot was initially trapped as the car came to rest.

“The driver was able to free his foot by withdrawing it from his racing boot leaving the boot in the entrapped position in the car and then moved both the dislodged headrest and steering wheel to egress the car.”

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Areas that are already being pursued as a direct result of the accident are regulation of survival cell front geometry (plus additional load tests in that area), a review of steering column mounting requirements, and a review of regulation and homologation requirements for headrest assembly.

There’s also an ongoing research project on wheel tethers, and in the light of the damage to the Haas, an analysis of power unit mounting and mount failure modes.

It’s clear that great attention has been paid to the fuel spill that triggered the fire, and the FIA is planning a design review of fuel bladder installations in all FIA single-seater categories, as well as recommendations for bladder installation best practice.

In addition there will be an update of the FIA standard for fuel bladders, and a review of regulations for the design of bladder connections and inspection hatches (another direct result of the issues in the Haas accident). Also fuel homologation will henceforth include compatibility of bladder material and specific fuel.

The original collision between Grosjean and Daniil Kvyat has triggered a review of existing mirror regulations – long a talking point in GPDA meetings.

 

Circuits

The way the unprotected barrier that Grosjean hit was angled garnered a lot of attention at the time of the accident. The FIA and the circuit acted quickly, and at the following weekend’s Sakhir GP it was protected by tyres and a belt.

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The FIA has made it clear that it is taking a fresh look at barriers, especially those adjacent to access points.

The FIA has long used simulations to analyse run-off areas and the trajectory of spinning cars and so on, and it is pursuing “increased functionality for Circuit Safety Analysis Software [CSAS] including quantitative impact probability classification.”

There will be a review of existing circuit barrier opening installations, and a review of the guidelines and process for circuit homologation and licence renewal.

 

Driver safety equipment

The summary of the FIA report says that Grosjean’s “safety equipment including helmet, HANS and safety harness as well as the survival cell, seat, headrest and Halo frontal cockpit protection performed according to their specifications in protecting the driver’s survival space and managing the forces applied to the driver during the impact.”

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However, the fact that the Frenchman suffered burns to his hands has focused particular attention on his gloves, and thus there will be an investigation into improvements to their heat transfer index, or HTI.

It’s also evident that there was an issue with his visor. There is an ongoing research project regarding opening/locking mechanisms, and its scope has been extended “to include requirements to ensure that visor opening systems are operational after being exposed to fire.”

Another ongoing research project into extinguisher systems for all open cockpit cars has been extended to include investigation of improved activation mechanisms.

Medical/rescue

The FIA medical car team and local marshals did a superb job in Bahrain. However given the scale of the incident a lot of lessons have been learned, and they will be shared with the ASNs and their race officials around the world through FIA training programmes.

There will ongoing developments for ASNs related to FIA firefighting training, high voltage safety training, and incident command/co-ordination training.

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There will be updates to medical intervention vehicle equipment, including alternate extinguisher types, and ASNs will be given guidance on post-fire decontamination.

Longer-term projects

In addition to the findings outlined above, which involve projects already underway, the FIA has others in the planning stages.

Further to the research into mirrors as a result of the Grosjean/Kvyat collision there will be an “investigation of options for proximity warning systems and electronic visibility aids”, which represents an intriguing development.

There will also be research into “retrofit and upgrade options to improve impact performance of existing guardrail barriers,” and research into “novel barrier systems, effective across a wider range of impact conditions.”

Finally there will be research to “assess current fire extinguishing media, firefighting equipment and personal protective equipment and assess new technologies.”

It’s an impressive list of conclusions given the relatively short timescale, and we can all be thankful that those lessons have resulted from an accident from which the driver escaped relatively unscathed – and is already back in the cockpit in Indycar testing.