There is no doubt that Romain Grosjean’s crash at this weekend’s Bahrain F1 GP was anything other than terrifying. That he was able to effectively walk away with no more than burns to his hands and ankles is amazing when you watch the footage of what happened.


His survival is down to two things - the evolution of safety equipment, in particular the Halo device, and the presence of a dedicated medical and rescue response (and the use of the word dedicated is deliberate and two-fold).

As Sir Jackie Stewart said in his message on Instagram “it would have been a very different story only a few years ago.”

Romain’s survival starts with changes in approach to safety that go back to Sir Jackie Stewart’s advocacy for drivers to wear full face helmets and race harnesses, for track design to be more deliberate with regards to safety and for a medical professional to be present at races. 


Through the years, tragic incidents have prompted an ongoing evolution of safety developments that have encompassed the cars, the competitors, the tracks and the people who support the events. It is work that often goes unrecognised until challenged by either criticism or near tragedy. The FIA along with other motorsport groups deserves credit for their work on many of the most impactful of these.

  • The introduction of the race harness
  • The addition of a fifth and sixth point of attachment to the race harness (crotch straps) to mitigate submarining injuries in front-on collisions
  • The evolution of helmet design which is still ongoing
  • The evolution of fire retardant race wear, also ongoing 
  • The introduction of the FHR (HANS, Hybrid, etc) to limit excess flexion-extension forces on the neck and resultant fatal injuries

  • The ongoing evolution of the race car’s safety cell
  • Bringing the seating position rearward so that the driver’s feet are behind the front wheel axle
  • The development of deformable crash structures to aid deceleration and the dispersal of forces around the driver
  • Quick release steering wheel for driver access
  • Yes, the Halo device. It may be aesthetically displeasing but after several notable crash incidents, it would appear to have validated itself several times over. It may have escaped attention due to the ferocity of Grosjean’s crash but on the opening lap after the red flag period of the Bahrain GP Lance Stroll’s car was flipped upside down and again the Halo probably prevented serious injury.

  • Race track design. While there may be justifiable criticism of dull race tracks, the pursuit of excitement should not result in being lax about hazard prevention.
  • The SAFER barrier. There are still some design flaws to work through but the inherent danger of unprotected Armco barrier, particularly in a head on collision by an open cockpit race car, was highlighted and underlined several times by Grosjean’s crash. Had the Halo not been part of the package the media headlines would likely be very much more somber.

  • The presence of a dedicated medical and rescue team to respond to on track incidents. This includes the medical chase car crewed by people like Dr Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe.

Not infrequently there is a push to reduce the attendance and input of medical and rescue professionals at motorsport events. It sometimes takes an incident like this to recognise their worth. And evident in the response of Ian and Alan is that there is more than just knowledge and skill, there is a deep dedication to the role. Listen to the their post race interview. They don’t simply respond to incidents, they proactively plan for them. 

At the start of race day they run through a checklist that includes the race details, expected problems, the weather forecast, the state of the chase vehicle, the presence and readiness of their equipment, how they will communicate with each other, race control and the local doctor sitting in the rear passenger seat. Then they run through potential chase lap scenarios and how they will respond. I know this because I have been the local doctor in the rear passenger seat. This is quality performance and facilitates effective decision making in high stakes environments.

No single thing saved Romain Grosjean. Every part of the chain of systems that aligned to result in him climbing out of his burning wreck and later waving to the camera with no more than burns dressings on his hands and feet deserves recognition and praise. That is why it is important to watch these videos, as hard as they can be to watch. We can learn from this and carry on evolving safety in motorsport.