Zhou Guanyu feared he would be trapped inside burning F1 car after crash

Zhou F1 fire
JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images

SPIELBERG, Austria — Trapped upside down in his mangled F1 car, Zhou Guanyu felt something leaking and worried about fire. He wasn’t sure what it was, but the Formula One driver knew that it could raise the risk of his car exploding in flames with him stuck inside.

“I didn’t know where I was because I was upside down, and the next thing I felt was some leaking. I was not sure if it was from my body or from the car,” he said. “I knew if a fire started it would be difficult to get out, so I switched my engine off and then everything was fine.”

Zhou, a 23-year-old Chinese driver for Alfa Romeo, on Thursday matter-of-factly explained his long wait to be freed following a terrifying first-lap crash at last Sunday’s British Grand Prix. The car was wedged between fencing and a tire barrier at the first corner, and rescue crews struggled to reach him in such an unusual position.

The crash at Silverstone brought the race to an immediate halt after the car flipped and slid upside-down across the gravel and over a tire wall into the retaining fence. The car was skidding on the halo, a frontal cockpit protection device, with Zhou’s helmet frighteningly close to the track surface. Then it went airborne.

Remarkably, Zhou was able to analyze how best to protect himself: “I tried to release the steering wheel myself and then get into a very low position. Make sure I’m quite solid inside myself, waiting for the final impact.”

Zhou said he also held his head to stop it bumping against the side, but didn’t know much else about his position. He can’t explain how he walked away with minor bruising.

“I had a little bit of bruising but it was all fine after one day. I don’t know how I walked out with such little impact on my body,” Zhou said ahead of this weekend’s Austrian GP in Spielberg. “It’s nice to be back here and especially not having such a long time. … If you had a summer break just after that it would be terrible, you would be thinking about the crash repeatedly.”

He processed the incident out of his mind remarkably fast.

“I was happy mentally just having one day off and then went back to checking my physical condition,” he said. “Obviously there’s times you do something and you need a bit of mental help, but this time I didn’t feel it was needed.”

Zhou, who was looking forward to Friday’s sprint race qualifying at the Red Bull Ring, again praised the halo protective device, which was added to F1 cars in 2018.

“I felt quite lucky looking back,” he said. “I don’t know how I survived, but then looking back obviously I saw the halo saved me for that.”

The race, won by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., was quickly red flagged. George Russell sprinted from his Mercedes to the tire barrier to check on Zhou.

“It was really sporting of him. Shows the huge respect of the drivers,” Zhou said. “Even though he wasn’t the one causing the incident. He called me after.”

Russell, who appeared to be hit from behind at the start and was knocked into Zhou, recalled his first glimpse of Zhou.

“It was him trapped in there, literally not being able to get out of the car,” Russell said Thursday. “When you’ve got a tire wall effectively on top of your head, blocking your exit, hanging upside down, it’s just a horrible situation to be in.”

Russell thinks improvements can be made to ensure a driver is removed more quickly from the car.

“From every disaster there’s an opportunity to improve as a sport, or whatever it may be,” he said. “Clearly things could have been positioned a bit differently to have given him that exit.”

Race rules prevented Russell from taking the restart because his car was towed back after he’d rushed out to check on Zhou. He said Mercedes understood his “natural reaction” to a “horrific incident.” IndyCar driver Callum Illot praised Russell’s actions and recalled how Russell had helped him during a kart crash. Russell noted he’d been similarly helped.

“I rolled my car in 2008. I was trapped under,” he said. “I was actually burning my arm because the exhaust was stuck on top of me. This other driver stopped to lift the car off me and help me out of there.”

The halo device on the cars was once very divisive in F1. While four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was an early vocal advocate of it, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton was among its critics.

Not anymore, not after last Sunday and last September, when Max Verstappen’s Red Bull car landed on top of his at the Italian GP.

“The (governing body) FIA have done an incredible job to improve safety. I also want to acknowledge the late, great (race director) Charlie (Whiting), who was really fundamental in getting us this halo, ” Hamilton said. “It saved my life last year, it saved several drivers’ lives.”

Alex Albon of Williams was flung into the pit wall last Sunday after being struck by Vettel from behind as drivers tried to avoid the incident involving Zhou. Williams was helicoptered to hospital and discharged that evening. He said he felt sore Monday but fine now.

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws

The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)