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

Bahrain Grosjean barrier investigation
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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.”

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
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The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500