Formula One’s existing safety measures saved Fernando Alonso’s life in a horrific crash during the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the fact that he is still with us today is because lady luck was at his side on the day.
The Spaniard clambered from his demolished McLaren after the high-speed collision with Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas and later posted an Instagram photograph of himself holding the Melbourne Herald Sun bearing the front-page headline ‘Luckiest Man Alive’.
The two-time Formula One world champion said he extricated himself so his mother would see he was safe. He went on to praise Formula One’s safety improvements, saying: “It was a scary moment and I’m happy that I can stand here. I am very grateful and would like to express my gratitude to the FIA for the safety standards. It’s the only reason I’m still alive.”
He added, “I feel fine physically but everything hurts a little because you move around so much at those speeds. The knee is what bothers me most as it hit the steering column but I feel very lucky.”
Alonso was travelling at 313kph as he began his overtaking manoeuvre and had slowed marginally to 305kph at the point of impact, when his front-right wheel made contact with the rear-left wheel of Gutiérrez’s car.
After the initial impact, Alonso’s front-right suspension was destroyed, and the car veered left towards the outside wall. The wall collision was made with the front left corner of the car, resulting in a peak lateral deceleration of 45G, with high acceleration levels also recorded by the ear accelerometers, demonstrating the forces on the driver’s head.
The High-Speed Camera, which took video frames of the driver every one hundredth of a second, showed that Alonso’s helmet made contact with the left inside face of the headrest twice during the impact, corresponding with two peaks seen on the ear accelerometer data.
The car rebounded and proceeded to slide along the circuit towards the gravel trap. With front-left, front-right and rear-left suspensions destroyed, the car was heavily leaning laterally on its left side as it traveled over the grass. This left side dug into the gravel, which rolled the car and propelled it into the air, recording a lateral deceleration of 46G.
This means that the Spaniard experienced a force of 46-times his own, about 3500 kg, during the shunt. Few have survived forces beyond 50G without serious injury, and anything above 60-70 kg is often fatal.
The car traveled in the air, rotating approximately 540 degrees (1.5 times) and was airborne for 0.9 seconds. On landing it made its initial contact with the ground on its rear impact absorbing structure, experiencing a peak longitudinal acceleration of 20G.
That he survived makes him the luckiest person of the year.