MEDLAND: Bullets dodged

Steven Tee/Motorsport Images

MEDLAND: Bullets dodged

Formula 1

MEDLAND: Bullets dodged


Keanu Reeves was at Silverstone on Saturday, and if anyone has seen The Matrix you will know that he is pretty good at dodging multiple bullets at once.

Just slowing everything right down in order to take evasive action was Neo’s approach in the film, and while that’s not how Formula 1 works, there was a fair bit of bullet dodging going on at Silverstone on Sunday.

It all started early, and in some ways it was sadly predictable. Roy Nissany has been involved in numerous incidents across his 79-race Formula 2 career so far, but Sunday morning very nearly was his last.

Nissany ran wide at Stowe, rejoined under pressure and moved across on Dennis Hauger as the Norwegian was pulling alongside on the inside towards Club. The contact damaged Hauger’s car, sent him sliding across the grass and inevitably towards another horrific collision.

Hauger was launched off a sausage curb and, as timing would have it, it was Nissany who was then taking the next left-hander who was T-boned at head height.

Without the Halo, I honestly don’t believe we’d be talking about Nissany in the present tense. Higher cockpit side protection or not, his head was going to be hit side-on by Hauger’s airborne car.

But with the Halo, it was the cockpit protection device that took the blow, and Nissany was able to climb out of his car.

Questions should rightly be asked about sausage curbs and if there are any better solutions, because numerous drivers have either been hurt badly upon landing when launched off one, or we’ve had remarkable near misses like the one on Sunday morning. But at some stage even the Halo won’t stop smaller debris entering the cockpit from a certain angle, and the preventative move would be to stop cars getting airborne.

When it comes to the more high-profile incident, there’s one major lesson to be learned. Guanyu Zhou’s roll-hoop failed when he was upside down, reducing the amount of protection he had as he slid towards the gravel. From there, in many ways everything did as it should.

The gravel slowed the car but it isn’t designed for a car to be upside down, and while the tire barrier would have absorbed the car, instead it was flipped over the barrier. But another line of defense, a debris fence, stood up excellently to cushion Zhou’s Alfa Romeo and prevent it – or any major debris – from entering the crowd.

Where Zhou ended up was extremely awkward and maybe different dimensions would give more space for a car to be easily accessed in the rare occurrence it ends up behind the barrier, but the chassis and Halo protected him from impacts and meant he was eventually able to be extracted without injury.

Physics will always make it hard to completely prevent a car rolling over when it’s hit heavily and gets completely sideways at such high speed, but they will also tell us how much weight the roll hoop needs to be able to sustain, because it didn’t hold up on this occasion. That’s likely to be a discussion for the FIA moving forward, as there will be a need to beef up that test.

But it did mean Zhou was able to return to the pit wall to a rapturous applause from the Silverstone crowd. as Alfa Romeo went on to rue a double-DNF when Valtteri Bottas also retired late on.

Perhaps Zhou didn’t realize just what people had witnessed, but when the grandstand opposite the pit wall erupted, he asked Alfa Romeo who had overtaken who, thinking it was a response to Lewis Hamilton racing. The team had to tell him it was for him, because everyone watching thought it was a crash that could have the worst possible outcome.

Instead, it was a crash that prevented it, due to the idiocy of people blinded by their desire to make their point.

I won’t name the activist group in question and give them the publicity, but anyone looking to protect the planet and save the world from future disaster is absolutely fighting for a noble cause. And using the platform of a grand prix is understandably the way to go, given its global reach.

That desire and right to protest, I totally agree with, and have no problem with them disrupting a race. What I do have a problem with, is them risking their own lives and that of so many other people involved to try and make their point.

Protesters broke onto the circuit on the opening lap, but thankfully the red flag had just come out and cars were slowing already, no longer racing each other. Believe me, that was pure luck. The protesters were not responding to the red flag, they had planned to invade on Lap 1, as warned by the police ahead of time.

I’m sure their intention was for the race to then be red flagged because they were on the track, but the danger they would have put themselves, marshals, drivers and even other fans in is totally irresponsible.

The fact I’m writing about it means it has had the desired impact in one way, but it has also hurt the sway of public opinion that could have been much more positively harnessed.

Without the red flag, it could well have seen an absolutely horrific outcome that would have hugely damaged the cause they are fighting for, and had a massive impact on so many innocent people that it starts to negate any attempts to save lives.

While F1 can point to its protection systems and non-stop push to improve the safety of motor racing at all levels as reasons for the safe return of drivers involved in big crashes on Sunday, it can only really thank its lucky stars that one such crash helped prevent a catastrophe on track.

Having swayed out of the way of so many bullets, there will inevitably be lessons learned from all of the scenarios. And that can only be a positive thing, because once we went racing after all of that, what a spectacle we were treated to.

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