Grosjean blow-out prompts Sepang track safety checks

Formula 1 officials and marshals launched an inspection of every drain cover at the Sepang circuit on Friday after Romain Grosjean suffered a high-speed, scary tyre explosion during Malaysian Grand Prix free practice.

A drain grille, which should have been welded down securely, popped up at a kerb on turn nine after Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari drove over it.

A few seconds later Grosjean hit the same spot at more than 200 kilometres an hour, with disastrous effect. The impact instantly ripped his right rear tyre from its rim and threw his Haas into the barriers.

Happily Grosjean was able to walk away, and declared “I’m all right” as the second practice session was red-flagged with 20 minutes remaining with a gaping hole left in the track.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner later slammed the incident as unacceptable, “Thank God he didn’t get hurt or anything. In my opinion, things like this in 2017 shouldn’t happen on a permanent circuit, they shouldn’t happen on any circuit.

“This is in my opinion not acceptable, it is not up to the standards… in the race this would have been a bigger disaster,” added Steiner.

Grosjean had no idea what had caused his crash until he saw TV replays, “I’ve just seen the footage. I didn’t see anything. The next thing I knew was that the car was not there any more. It was just spinning and heading for the wall.”

Race director Charlie Whiting said that the cover had been welded down but had broken loose and would be replaced, They’ve been welded a long time I expect. So we shall re-weld where necessary and then tonight we shall check everything. We have to get it fixed for tomorrow.”

Asked if that meant his crew now had to inspect and repair every drain cover on the 5.543-kilometre layout, Whiting said: “Yes. For the rest of the day [Friday] we shall concentrate on that. ”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said it was not something that any driver wanted to worry about when entering a corner at high speed, “Hopefully they check all the drains tonight.”

“Obviously it needs some attention. Because you do not want to think about it in the race. Some corners you really need to use the kerbs to let the corner flow and to use the momentum flow. So hopefully they fix it all,” added Ricciardo.

Meanwhile Haas will be allowed to carry out repairs on Grosjean’s damaged car overnight thanks to a special dispensation granted by officials.

Teams are obliged to observe a strict overnight curfew, where work on cars is prohibited. However, Sepang stewards have granted Haas a one-off waiver due to the unusual nature of the incident.

Officials said that they “consider that the circumstances causing the crash of Car 8 were entirely and clearly beyond the control of the Driver and the Competitor (and any other driver or competitor) and consider them as ‘force majeure’.”

All teams are allowed two exceptions to the curfew per season, but Haas’s special dispensation in Malaysia will not count as one of those.