The sight of Fernando Alonso climbing from his destroyed McLaren in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix was one that engendered a huge sigh of relief among viewers around the world.
Alonso’s crash with Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas on lap 18 will rank among the most terrifying seen in Formula One in recent years, evoking memories of similar accidents suffered by Martin Brundle and Jacques Villeneuve at the very same corner in 1996 and 2001 respectively, as well as Robert Kubica’s horror smash in Canada in 2007 and Mark Webber’s cartwheel over Heikki Kovalainen at Valencia in 2010.
That the double world champion was able to climb from his car unaided within seconds of the devastating impact was nothing short of remarkable, and provides yet another tribute to the ever-growing safety of these Grand Prix cars, which have no doubt saved countless lives over the past ten years.
Alonso has been cleared of injury by medics and will almost certainly compete in the Bahrain Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time, something that seems scarcely believable given the ferocity of his crash.
Right decision not to penalise either driver
The decision by the stewards not to hand down a penalty to either Alonso or Gutierrez in the aftermath of the incident was no doubt the correct one in a sport that has increasingly taken to finding someone to blame for collisions in recent years.
Both drivers played some part in the incident. Alonso was caught out by the Haas’ braking point and left himself no time to avoid contact with the Mexican, but Gutierrez, perhaps expecting the McLaren to try to pass him on the inside, moved to the left just before turn three and closed the gap that the Spaniard was trying to move into.
It was a classic example of a racing incident. When drivers are fighting over positions at 200mph, invariably there are times that contact will occur. Sunday was just one of those examples, albeit with terrifying consequences, and the fact that Alonso and Gutierrez found themselves out of the race was punishment enough for their sins.
A grid penalty for either driver for Bahrain would not only have unnecessarily compromised their race in Sakhir, but would have been a damning indictment on the sport’s governing bodies’ attitude towards wheel-to-wheel combat.
Tarmac may not necessarily have lessened impact
One of the main themes on social media in the aftermath of the crash was widespread criticism of the gravel trap at turn three, with many blaming the way in which it pitched Alonso’s car into a roll for making the accident worse.
While a tarmac run-off area would almost certainly have prevented the McLaren from flipping, the one thing that the roll did do was dissipate the force that Alonso was subjected to throughout the crash, making his final impact against the tyre barrier fairly innocuous.
Had a tarmac run-off been in place instead, it is likely that Alonso – unable to brake or steer – would have continued across the run-off area at high speed before striking the tyre barrier head-on, in a manner not too dissimilar to Carlos Sainz Jr’s crash in practice for last season’s Russian Grand Prix.
Nobody wants to see cars launched into the air like Alonso’s was, but there is simply no guarantee that he would have been unhurt had the crash occurred in a tarmac run-off area. The ideal solution would be a material that can slow cars to a stop in a safe and predictable manner, but until that mystery compound is found, there will always be an element of compromise.