When a Formula 1 driver straps their belts tight, they aren’t thinking about the risks. They are thinking about the reward; the champagne on the podium with their national anthem blaring over the loud speaker. It’s easy to forget the danger that every high-speed turn presents when watching a grand prix from home. Peril waits over every curb with every pitch and shake of the car at almost 300 kilometers per hour.
This weekend in Saudi Arabia we were reminded of the danger that lurks around every grand prix weekend.
During Saturday’s qualifying, Mick Schumacher, son of racing legend Michael Schumacher, lost control of the back end of his Haas F1 car and careened into the nearside wall before bouncing into the outside wall. The accident ripped the tires from the car and sent a shower of bodywork across the track.
Red Flag 🚩
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) March 26, 2022
Schumacher was helped from his crippled Haas and escorted to the medical center where he was then transported to a local hospital. While he seems alright and in good spirits, he will be kept at the hospital for further evaluations and will miss tomorrows’ Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
— Mick Schumacher (@SchumacherMick) March 26, 2022
For Schumacher fans and the entire industry, his health was a massive relief. Most importantly, the new car was given its first real safety test. Formula 1 is the world’s most pristine car racing league, but it is also historically the most dangerous. Whenever crashes like the one we saw on Saturday happen, the same question arises.
Are the cars really safe?
Watching the races every weekend, it is amazing that large incidents don’t happen very often. The 20 drivers on the grid right now are incredibly talented. Their amazing driving makes it so we don’t often see the full extent to how safe the cars really are.
In the turbo-hybrid era (2014-2021) Formula 1 saw the cars go through massive changes and in the late 2010’s we saw the fastest speeds ever in the series. There is no doubting the safety of the sport in this era, as the crashes have been just as vicious, if not more so, than years past.
Since the overhaul in safety following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994, the sport has seen no other casualties at the top level. Thankfully this hasn’t stopped the FIA from improving safety every year.
A prime example is the addition of the ‘halo’ in 2018. The round ring that circles the cockpit was designed to protect the drivers head from suffering a direct blow. It was vastly unpopular among drivers, some even claiming it was useless. The opinion quickly changed when the innovation saved Charles Leclerc during the Belgian Grand Prix.
In 2020, the safety of the current Formula 1 cars was on full display when Romain Grosjean’s Haas exploded and split in half during the Bahrain Grand Prix. The driver suffered nothing more than burns on his hands as he walked out of a fiery inferno.
This is unreal. Despite hitting the barrier head-on, his car being torn in half, and his half of the car bursting into flames, Romain Grosjean walked away from this massive crash. Respect to the marshals and medics on the scene. pic.twitter.com/mGSI2fP5qk
— Simon Head (@simonhead) November 29, 2020
Grosjean’s crash was one of many that involved the question of safety within the facility itself. The guard rail clearly splits on impact and led to the car being sawed in half. Because of the massive explosion, the fuel tank location was tweaked in comparison to the electrical units. Formula 1 tracks have adjusted their barriers to not jut out as much in awkward places like this to avoid any chances of an accident like this ever happening again.
Even last year, when title front runners Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collided in one of the fastest corners in the entire sport, Verstappen was able to hop out under his own power.
— The Supercar Squad (@thesupercar_sqd) July 29, 2021
The level of safety that the sport has reached is a tremendous achievement. Crashes that may not have been survivable 20 years ago have been almost completely erased.
Formula 1, its teams, and its drivers remain on their toes though. Safety innovations don’t stop because teams can not afford to wait for an inciting accident. The sport has adopted a proactive approach and is always looking for ways to make their cars the safest possible.
So yes. I would say Formula 1 is safe. However there will always be a presence of danger, but isn’t that why we watch it?