The investigation into Romain Grosjean‘s fiery accident during the opening lap of last November’s Bahrain Grand Prix is nearing publication and will be presented to the FIA World Motorsport Council meeting on March 5th prior to the outcome and recommendations being publicly released, RaceFans understands.
The Haas driver speared through the Bahrain circuit’s turn three barrier at over 240km/h, registering an impact of 53G before erupting in flames. Grosjean escaped with bruising and burnt hands, having initially been unable to escape the inferno due to the headrest becoming dislodged and blocking his egress, and his left (brake) foot being stuck between the deformed pedals.
“I don’t know why I did what I did, but I decided to turn my helmet on the left-hand side and to go up like this and try and twist my shoulder, that sort of works,” he told media including RaceFans during a Zoom call three days after the crash.
“Then I realise my foot is stuck in the car so I sit back down, pull as hard as I can on my left leg, the shoe stayed where my foot was but my foot came out of the shoe. Then I [wriggle] again and the shoulders are going through and this time the shoulder was through [and] I know I’m going to jump out.”
Details of the investigation were shared during last week’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting. A TAC source told RaceFans the primary focus was on three main areas, namely: the cause of the fire, the reason the U-shaped headrest dislodged, and how to improve footwell and pedal protection. Various recommendations were tabled, for both immediate implementation and for inclusion in 2022’s ‘new era’ cars.
Photographs of the badly damaged Haas chassis show the left fuel tank hatch – fixed to the chassis and situated under a cover, required to enable access to pumps and valves within the deformable Kevlar fibre fuel bladder – burst open during the crash, causing fuel leakage. FIA regulations require tanks to meet FT5-1999 specifications, and all teams source tanks – to their own designs – from a single supplier, ATL.
In 2019 the FIA introduced a self-scrutineering process whereby teams certify that their cars comply fully with all prevailing regulations. Teams have been advised that full compliance with FT5-1999 will be checked by the FIA during 2021, and that changes will be made to future fuel tank regulations. According to the source a number of teams – potentially as many as four – may need to redesign their hatch fastening systems.
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“Haas F1 Team has always adhered to FIA standards with regards to its car design and build, and in particular safety measures,” a Haas spokesperson told RaceFans. “We are always in full compliance of the regulations and, like all competing teams, we welcome initiatives and improvements to standards issued by the FIA and we implement them accordingly.
Haas has a component sourcing agreement with Ferrari, and both teams are said to use the same tank and pedal box designs. Ferrari would not comment when asked by RaceFans, while powertrain customer Sauber’s tank hatch fastening system is believed to be an in-house design.
All teams were approached for comment. A number of them requested anonymity due to safety sensitivities but indicated that their systems complied fully with FT5-1999. Alpine and Red Bull did not respond to requests for comment.
The TAC meeting was further advised that a stringent static load test would in future be applied to U-shaped headrest surrounds to prevent dislodging of the type experienced by Grosjean and during Kevin Magnussen’s practice crash at Eau Rouge at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton’s headrest came loose during the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, forcing him to make a pit stop which ultimately cost him a victory.
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“We have had to make small changes [to the headrest surround], but [ours] was nearly at the required standard – and we believe everybody will have had to make changes,” one team source said speaking on condition of anonymity. Another said: “The 2020 one had to undergo some very minor modifications for the new test, so it’s not a 100% carry-over, but it took only minor changes to be okay.”
Revisions to pedal box assemblies and footwell constructions are also said to be under discussion for 2022, with all teams spoken to by RaceFans expressing their confidence in the FIA’s investigation into the accident, and the subsequent findings and recommendations. “Something good has come from a very bad accident,” said a team source.
The required regulatory changes are expected to be approved by the WMSC, which has exclusive powers to ratify amendments to the rules for bona fide safety reasons without team consent, for incorporation in the 2021 and 2022 F1 regulations.
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