The La Source hairpin has been a regular scene of first lap carnage down the years. The short run to the first corner in the Belgian Grand Prix, followed by heavy braking into the hairpin rarely sees the entire field escape unscathed – but even by the accepted standards, this year’s crash was exceptional.
The high energy collision was itself surprising but in the aftermath its consequences for the championship had shock value all of their own: Championship leader Fernando Alonso was out, and for the first time this season would not be adding to his points tally.
The incident appeared to begin when Grosjean, starting eighth for Lotus, moved across to the inside of the track and collided with McLaren’ Lewis Hamilton, starting in sixth. Hamilton lost control and the pair tangled once again, barrelling into the leaders who were braking for the hairpin. Both cars were effectively destroyed in the collision.
“It’s been a difficult day for me – my race was so short that I didn’t even break a sweat out there,” said a rueful Hamilton, who declined to give a detailed account from his point of view. “I don’t really want to talk about the start – I think everyone saw what happened – it’s just a shame. This wasn’t a great day for my world championship hopes either.”
The damage wasn’t restricted to those two, however. When the unfolding accident got to the hairpin, the brunt of the force was taken by Alonso’s Ferrari. The championship leader, who started fifth, took a heavy hit. He stayed in his seat after the accident but jumped out when marshals attacked the car with extinguishers.
'I had no idea what happened: I felt as though I had been run into by a train!' Fernando Alonso
“I’m fine, except my left shoulder hurts a bit: I went to the medical centre immediately after the accident but everything is alright – the pain only comes from the whiplash,” said Alonso. “Immediately after the impact, I stayed in the cockpit for a few seconds, but then there was the start of a fire and the foam from the extinguishers meant I couldn’t breathe. “
“I had no idea what happened: I had overtaken the two Saubers when I felt as though I had been run into by a train! The level of safety of these cars is very high and today we saw further proof of that. I am not angry with Grosjean, he definitely didn’t do it on purpose: it was a case of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What happened is a shame, because I think a podium was indeed within my reach, especially when you see what Felipe demonstrated on track. Today we paid a high price through bad luck and luck owes us now: let’s see what happens in the rest of the season.”
Alongside Alonso, Sergio Pérez, who had started fourth, was also caught up in the melée and forced into retirement. “I was going into turn one, braking and then suddenly the cars came from behind and hit me and it was a big mess,” said the Mexican.
Pastor Maldonado, who had made a jump start from sixth, was also caught up in the incident, as was Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver had a poor start from second and picked up some damage, forcing him to limp around to the pits. “This is a terrible race result after we had been doing so well in qualifying,” he said. “There was nothing I could do when a car came flying into mine after the start. I had to pit once for some repairs and then again after seven laps because of a slow puncture.
“During the race I didn’t really know how bad the damage to the car was, but I could see a tyre print on the cockpit all the time. Later in parc fermé I understood why I was so slow, as the side pod and some other bodywork had gone.”
After the race, FIA stewards determined Grosjean had breached several of F1’s Sporting Regulations. He was issued with a one race ban and a fine of €50,000.
“When your life is all about racing, not being allowed to attend an event is probably one of the worst experiences you can go through. That said, I do respect the verdict of the Stewards,” said Grosjean after the verdict. “I got a good start… and was heading into the first corner when the rear of my car made contact with the front of Lewis [Hamilton]’s.
"I honestly thought I was ahead of him and there was enough room for both cars; I didn’t deliberately try to squeeze him or anything like that. This first corner situation obviously isn’t what anyone would want to happen and thankfully no-one was hurt in the incident. I wish to apologise to the drivers who were involved and to their fans. I can only say that today is part of a process that will make me a better driver."
In 2006, Super Aguri driver Yuji Ide had his super-licence revoked after a string of accidents but the last driver to be given a specific race ban was Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Villeneuve’s ban came about when he was adjudged to have ignored a yellow flag in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. He already had a suspended ban for a similar offence.
Chasing the Championship, he raced under appeal. He finished fifth (which would have given him a one-point lead over Michael Schumacher going into the final race). Bizarrely (although also sensibly looking at the mathematics) Williams withdrew their appeal and the Williams driver’s Suzuka result was annulled.
Judging from Grosjean’s comments and the stewards’ observation that neither the driver nor his team offered any mitigating evidence, it’s unlikely they’ll take up their right of appeal – and so the most likely consequence is Grosjean missing the Italian Grand Prix next weekend. It is probable that Jerome D’Ambrosio, official reserve driver for Lotus, will take his place at Monza.
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