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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Giles Richards at the Red Bull Ring

‘I don’t know how I survived’: Zhou Guanyu feared fire after British GP crash

Alfa Romeo’s Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu is seen in the crash barriers during an incident at the start of the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 3, 2022.
Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo hit the crash barriers after the incident at the start of the British Grand Prix. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Zhou Guanyu, the driver who endured an enormous crash at last Sunday’s British Grand Prix, has said he finds it hard to believe he survived the incident. Speaking about what happened at Silverstone for the first time, Zhou admitted he feared his car would catch fire as he lay trapped amid the wreckage.

The 23-year-old, who is the first Chinese driver in Formula One and in his rookie season in the sport, was speaking in the buildup to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring and once more paid tribute to the halo cockpit protection device. “I don’t know how I survived,” he said. “But then looking back obviously I saw the halo saved me.”

That Zhou survived such a horrific high-speed crash was testament to the safety of modern cars. At turn one on the opening lap there was a multi-car accident in which Zhou’s Alfa Romeo was clipped by George Russell’s Mercedes. It flipped the Alfa Romeo over upon first impact with the track, crushing the roll hoop above the driver’s head. The car then continued hurtling upside down at high speed across the gravel trap, repeatedly smashing the halo against the ground.

The Alfa Romeo then hit the barriers and the car was launched into the catch fencing beyond. Zhou’s car came to a halt stuck in the narrow space between the barriers and the fence. Having survived the impact but unable to get out, the driver was left fearing his vehicle would catch fire.

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

“It wasn’t hurting but it was very cold on the left hand side, so I didn’t know if it was blood and I wasn’t feeling any more or something. I was just making sure, I was more worried about if the engine caught on fire because in that position you are really stuck.”

Alfa Romeo’s Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu gives an interview at the Red Bull Ring race track on 7 July 2022 ahead of the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix
The FIA is investigating Zhou Guanyu’s crash and why the roll hoop gave way as it is designed and tested to ensure it can withstand impact. Photograph: Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty Images

Zhou was trapped in the car until marshals were able to help extricate him and he was taken to the medical centre for examination. Remarkably he was declared fit and able to leave. He said he had some minor bruising but felt fine by the next day.

The FIA, F1’s governing body, is investigating the incident and a key point will be why the roll hoop gave way given it is designed and tested to ensure it can withstand an impact. Zhou believes the forces involved were too severe. “I think the first hit was much harder than what [the team] investigated through the safety test, a few times harder than the numbers we want,” he said. “So that’s obviously created a problem.”

Lewis Hamilton was among the drivers who opposed the halo when it was introduced in 2018 but was persuaded of its value by the late Charlie Whiting, the then FIA race director. The seven-time world champion, who was protected by the halo when Max Verstappen’s car landed on top of him at Monza last year, paid tribute to Whiting.

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“I want to acknowledge the late, great Charlie, who was really fundamental in giving us the halo,” he said. “It saved my life last year and it has saved several drivers’ lives recently. Whilst we weren’t always supportive of it initially because of how it looked I remember him telling us it was a 17% improvement in safety and we could not ignore that.

“It’s amazing to see how safe these cars are and you can get out and walk away. It’s also a reminder to those watching that this is a dangerous sport. We take real risks out there at crazy speeds.”

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