Getting the formalities out of the way with first: Good qualifying for George Russell – 14th place, ahead of both Alfas and both Haas cars – Williams’ main rivals for single digit points, albeit a good seven tenths off 13th place Lance Stroll in last year’s Mercedes. Less good for Nicholas Latifi, staring plum last once again, almost a second off his team-mate.
Come the race, George suffered another heinous start and lost any ground he’d gained with a stellar qualifying for the umpteenth time this season. He gradually made his way into the midfield (as per usual), hovering around the low teens, nicely poised to nick a point should anything happen up ahead.
Sadly though, despite Sergio Perez’s late retirement there wasn’t enough attrition in the top ten to allow George in, and he finished 12th, with Nicholas two places back, ahead of the two Alfas and the remaining Haas.
A middling race for Williams.
The main story of the weekend though wasn’t in how Williams fared, it was Haas driver Romain Grosjean’s incredible escape from the worst crash I’ve seen in Formula 1 in decades, that looked almost certain to have seriously injured the Frenchman or worse.
As the pack rounded turn three on lap 1, the usual melee of cars – some on-track, some not – the usual jostling for position took place. Grosjean, not averse to some questionable driving, especially at the start of Grands Prix, spotted a gap to the right of his team-mate ahead and moved dramatically over to that side of the circuit, not considering there might already be a car there.
There was – Daniil Kvyat – and as the two made contact, poor Grosjean’s car speared right and into the exposed Armco barrier, placed at an unfortunately pronounced angle along what was now a straight piece of track.
The car pierced the barrier, with the cockpit lodging itself backwards and at an angle between the top and bottom rail (of three) as the rear of the car detached, severing part of the fuel line, causing an enormous fireball to erupt around the wreckage.
The fire raged for up to 20 seconds before – miraculously (not in the Biblical sense, in the sense that the odds on all the pieces falling into place to allow it to happen are so microscopically minute) Romain appeared from the fireball, himself ablaze, and helped to safety by the crew of the medical car, fortuitously on hand, it being the start of the Grand Prix.
Had it been lap two and the medical car not been on hand. Had Grosjean suffered any kind of concussion. Had it happened four years ago before the advent of the Halo. Had his car stopped six inches short of where it did. Had his Haas tilted to once side a degree or two less. Had the FIA not introduced a new standard in fireproofing prior to the beginning of the 2020 season…
I could go on.
But for all of these things I’m absolutely convinced Romain Grosjean would not be with us today.
Once the fire was extinguished, the scene that remained was one of pure devastation. There was very little left of the safety cell that saved RG’s life, and what there was was charred almost beyond recognition as the car that began the race just a few minutes earlier.
Romain Grosjean – conscious and walking – was whisked away to the nearest Bahraini hospital where he was treated for burns to his hands and suspected broken ribs. There is no doubt he got away lightly.
It’s down to the FIA to find out quite why the Haas was able to so easily pierce the barriers that triggered such a frightening accident. It shouldn’t have happened, and whether it was down to the construction of the barriers, or whether the FIA’s barrier standards aren’t stringent enough the buck really has to start with them.
And so while everyone’s (rightly) congratulating the governing body for its implementation of the Halo in the face of much hostility (including from me I must confess), and other safety measures, we mustn’t forget the part chance played in Grosjean’s escape, but just as importantly the failures that also played their part.
Formula 1 got away with one today. Thank goodness.