Grosjean’s terrifying wreck prompts questions for F1 about fire, barrier at Bahrain track

Bahrain Grosjean barrier investigation
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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Formula One and its FIA sanctioning body will begin an investigation with “very careful scrutiny” of the Bahrain Sakhir circuit as the series prepares to race at the track again next weekend after Romain Grosjean survived a fiery crash into an Armco barrier Sunday.

That wreck on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix occurred on the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) circuit that usually plays host to F1. The Sakhir Grand Prix will use the smaller, 3.5-kilometer (2.2-mile) outer circuit of the track for the Dec. 6 race, the midpoint of a three-race stretch in the Middle East that will conclude the 2020 season.

The alternate circuit, which has three long straightaways with two linked by a corner in a manner similar to an oval, will be making its debut in international competition, and there likely will be a renewed focus on the layout after Grosjean’s wreck, which drew praise for safety enhancements but also some criticism of the barrier in the violent impact.

In the high-speed, head-on collision, Grosjean’s car was cut in half after penetrating the steel barrier and sparking a massive fireball — as well as questions about the factors that precipitated the scene.

“I haven’t looked at the images a lot because, to be honest, I didn’t really want to, but the main thing is (Grosjean) got out,” four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel told Sky Sports. “I don’t know how, to be honest.

“Obviously, the guardrail is not supposed to fail like that. It’s good the cars are safer than they used to be in the past, but the guardrail shouldn’t fail, and the car shouldn’t catch fire in that fashion. There’s a lot of precautions that it doesn’t catch fire. I don’t know what happened there. It’s difficult to say at this stage, but the main thing is obviously that he got out.”

In a Sky Sports interview, Ross Brawn, F1’s managing director of motorsports and technical director, said the track would be part of the crash review.

“Undoubtedly, we’re going to do a very deep analysis of all the events that occurred because there were a number of things that shouldn’t have happened,” Brawn said. “The fire was worrying. The split of the barrier was worrying. I think the positives are the safety of the car. That’s what got us through today.”

Grosjean attributed having survived the crash to the halo device, which was instituted with the 2018 season to offer drivers greater protection.

“The barrier splitting was a classic problem many years ago that normally resulted in a fatality,” Brawn said. “There’s absolutely no doubt the halo was the factor that saved the day and saved Romain.

“But I think all the team behind it just need crediting for forcing it through. If you recall, there was quite a lot of controversy about introducing it, and I don’t think anyone now, especially after today, can doubt the validity of that and devalue it. Hats off to everybody involved because it was a lifesaver today.”

The severity of the wreck shook many of Grosjean’s peers.

“I was shocked; from my generation, I’ve never seen things like this,” AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly said. “In the past, it was more common. It was really scary. I had no idea a Formula One car could break that way and especially go through the barriers.”

Armco barriers, which are similar to the guardrails used on interstate highways, have been used in F1 and other racing series for decades.

“It’s a barrier which would be very unusual to hit in the way Romain hit that barrier,” Brawn said. “For sure, there’ll be some very careful scrutiny between now and the next race. Any information we can gather between now and the next race, we’ll do so. And I’m sure any action that will be taken that needs to be done.

“But it’s something we haven’t seen in a very long time, and I think the safety standards at the circuits are exceptional. But today we saw something we didn’t predict.”

Brawn said it could have been worse. Though F1 cars typically are carrying 100 kilos of fuel at the start of a race, he estimated only a few kilos of fuel burned in the fire.

“We have to look at how everything failed,” Brawn said. “Because everything is designed to fail in the progression. But in a crash that catastrophic, obviously things failed in an unpredicted way. Obviously the car came apart. We had a fuel fire, which is something we haven’t had for a very long time. The fuel cell is incredibly strong. I suspect that came from a ruptured connection.”

According to Yahoo! Sports, the FIA’s crash report could last for months, and race director Michael Masi said he didn’t want to speculate on the cause of the fire.

McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr. told Sky Sports he had “full confidence (in) what the FIA are doing and how they ard handling the sport,” noting the implementation of the halo despite pushback (including some from Grosjean and other drivers).

“I think it’s a great opportunity to keep learning of how to keep making these cars safer and the sport safer,” Sainz said. “At the same time, I guess the demonstration that every time we are jumping in one of these beasts, we are putting our life in a bit of a compromised situation, and that has to be respected, and today proved that freak accidents can still happen in Formula One.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

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