Despite an intensely entertaining British Grand Prix, one image fronted the newspapers the next day: Zhou Guanyu’s terrifying crash on the first lap. The Alfa Romeo driver made contact with George Russell and Pierre Gasly, which sent him spinning upside down and across a gravel trap before being thrown into safety fencing behind a tyre barrier.
The race was immediately red flagged, with the medical and safety teams doing a brilliant job recovering him from the very beaten-up Alfa.
Although the halo did its job, protecting him from a great deal of the heavy shunt, there were still many failures that will need to be investigated by the FIA after the event; most notably the rear rollover bar.
The Alfa Romeo team, which is part of the Sauber Group, built this chassis using something called a single-strut rollover bar. They returned to the concept this season after not using this design since 2019. This style had previously raised eyebrows, especially when Mercedes brought something similar to their car back in 2010.
We should stress that the C42 passed the FIA crash tests before the season.
All nine remaining teams on the grid use a roll hoop, which has four legs to distribute the load to the top of the carbon chassis. Its design is similar to a double horseshoe.
Over the years, the rollover bar structure has changed, most notably after introducing the halo to F1 in 2018. Before F1 introduced this titanium structure, the cars needed a front and rear rollover bar structure that would keep them safe if they were flipped upside down. An ‘invisible line’ between these two structures needed to clear the driver’s helmet by around 50mm to 70mm.
With the halo, the front rollover bar has disappeared, having previously been located just in front of the steering wheel. However, the rear rollover bar is still an essential part of an F1 car and is situated behind the driver.
Now, this rear rollover bar appears to have failed on Zhou’s car, which saw him slide almost parallel to the track rather than leaving a sort of triangle shape. Although Zhou’s Alfa Romeo ended up in a narrow gap between the fence and a Tecpro barrier, it begs the question of how he would’ve been able to escape quickly if it remained flat to the ground.
Of course, the FIA put every part of the car through intense crash testing, with it being suggested by The Race that these kinds of rollover bars and hoop structures are tested to around 12.5 tonnes worth of weight, way more than the estimated 900kg weight of Zhou’s car at the start of the British GP.
To pass the necessary tests, a primary rollover structure needs to be able to take loads which are equivalent to 105kN vertically (around 10.5 tonnes), 60kN laterally (six tonnes) and 70kN longitudinally (seven tonnes). It’s an intense test, which, once again, all cars passed before the 2022 season began.
So, why did it fail? Well, it could be for a variety of reasons.
One factor might be the angle at which the car whacked the tarmac. Pictures taken after the race at the Silverstone circuit show the force at which the car hit the ground, having ripped a chunk out of the track. Insane. Having gone upside down, with the rollover bar sustaining a heavy vertical impact, it then received a further battering as it slid along the ground for a long distance and through the gravel.
There could also be a look into the bolts that secure the rollover bar to the chassis, as this is not one continuous part and are, in fact, two separate structures of the car.
One respected individual in the paddock calling for an extensive FIA investigation is the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association Chairman and former F1 driver, Alex Wurz. Tweeting about the accident on Tuesday evening, he referenced another incident which occurred in 1999 at the European Grand Prix when another rollover hoop was destroyed in a crash.
“Last time (as far as I remember) an F1 roll hub collapsed was with Pedro Diniz, Nurburgring 99,” he tweeted, also sharing that the car of Diniz ‘jumped over him’.
Last time (as far as i remember) an @F1 roll hub collapsing was with Pedro Diniz, Nurburgring 99 (jumping over me 🙈) This led to stricter crash tests, requested by GPDA, swiftly executed/ implemented by @FIA . Dear Mister President pls check your inbox, we got (more) work to do pic.twitter.com/IsxIg7D209
— alex wurz (@alex_wurz) July 5, 2022
“This led to stricter crash tests, requested by GPDA, swiftly executed and implemented by [the] FIA.
“Dear Mister President,” he continued, calling out FIA’s President Mohammed ben Sulayem, “pls check your inbox. We got (more) work to do.”
We’re just glad to see Zhou, and Alex Albon, are safe and well after their respective scary incidents at the start of the race. A true testament to the safety developments that have occurred in F1 over the past few decades.