Felipe Massa's German Grand Prix Crash: F1's Safety Record Enhanced Again

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2014

Williams driver Felipe Massa of Brazil crashes in the first curve of the German Formula One Grand Prix in Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Felipe Massa is becoming the poster child for ever-improving Formula One safety standards after he emerged unscathed from yet another dramatic accident on Sunday at the German Grand Prix.

Going into the first corner at Hockenheim, Massa slowed slightly to avoid hitting his Williams teammate, Valtteri Bottas. As he turned in to follow Bottas through the fast right-hander, Massa was unaware McLaren's Kevin Magnussen was already there.

When the cars collided, Massa's right-rear wheel went over Magnussen's front-left, flipping the Williams FW36 upside down. Massa's car skidded along the outside of Turn 1 on its roll bar before eventually righting itself, narrowly missing the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in the process.

Immediately after the accident, BBC commentator and veteran driver of 247 grands prix David Coulthard absolved both drivers, calling it a racing incident. And he was correct—both men were racing hard into the first corner and just happened to be aiming for the piece of tarmac at the same time. The stewards confirmed Coulthard's view, deciding not to issue a penalty to either driver.

Aftermath of the crash.
Aftermath of the crash.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

When Massa flipped, the roll bar did its job. It protected his head and barely looked damaged after the crash, a testament to the rigour of F1's safety regulations and testing.

Afterward, Massa said, "Luckily I am OK but I am not happy," according to a team press release.

Luck had little to do with it, though. True, any time a car goes airborne, whether it flips or not, there is a greater potential for injury. Once a car loses contact with the circuit, the driver can no longer slow it down using the brakes nor control its direction.

But modern F1 safety standards have already allowed two drivers to walk away from rollovers this season. In addition to Massa, Esteban Gutierrez was unharmed following a flip at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It has been 15 years since Sauber's Pedro Diniz was sent rolling at the start of the 1999 European Grand Prix (coincidentally also in Germany, but at the Nurburgring). His roll bar failed completely in what could easily have been a deadly accident. Thankfully, Diniz was not seriously injured, but the crash spurred changes to the regulations regarding roll structures.

The roll structure fails on the Sauber of Pedro Diniz at the 1999 European Grand Prix.
The roll structure fails on the Sauber of Pedro Diniz at the 1999 European Grand Prix.FRANK AUGSTEIN/Associated Press

This year, Gutierrez and Massa have been the beneficiaries of this progress.

Last May was the 20th anniversary of the last F1 fatality, Ayrton Senna, which also led to many safety enhancements. Today, the sport is still dangerous, but the danger is more from freak accidents than from those that can be foreseen—like rollovers.

In 2009, Massa was a victim of one of those freak accidents. During qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, he was struck in the head by a loose spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn. Although Massa missed the rest of the season with a serious head injury, his crash helmet (and, on that occasion, some luck) saved his life.

Returning to this season, the Brazilian was involved in another scary collision at the end of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. He came together with Sergio Perez while they were battling for fourth place and both drivers hit the wall at high speed. Massa barely missed collecting the other Red Bull, that of Sebastian Vettel.

Again, despite a spectacular-looking crash, both Massa and Perez were unhurt. Again, the safety features of the cars and circuit—which are now mandatory because of the sacrifices of many drivers who died, and those they left behind—did their jobs.

Yes, Massa should be thankful he was not seriously injured at Hockenheim (and at Montreal), but it is not luck that protected him.


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