Hamilton takes 95th career F1 win after Grosjean walks away from horror crash

Lewis Hamilton chalked up a 95th career grand prix victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix after Romain Grosjean thankfully emerged unscathed after a frightening accident on the opening lap.

The newly crowned seven-time world champion led home Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon to notch up yet another record in his glittering career, but the real story of the race was that of the Haas driver emerging from a horrifying accident on the opening lap, to the relief of everyone.

“It was such a shocking image to see,” said Hamilton, talking to Sky Sports’ Paul di Resta afterward. “You know, Paul, when we arrive, when I get in the car, I know I’m talking a risk and I respect the dangers that are in the sport and I posted about it when I was in that break, because it’s horrifying.

“I don’t know what Gs he pulled, but I’m so grateful the Halo worked, and the barrier didn’t slice his head off, or something like that. It could have been so much worse. But it’s a reminder to us and the people watching that this is a dangerous sport and that’s why we’re out there, pushing to the limit and playing with that limit. But you also have to respect it.

“It shows an amazing job Formula One has done, the FIA has done, for him to be able to walk away from something like that. Of course, that will be investigated and they will do a lot of work to try and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

It was a frightening start to the race, Grosjean veering right and hitting the barrier head on at the exit of Turn Three at around 140mph, the rubber fuel cell rupturing and creating a fireball of which the Frenchman miraculously emerged.

The accident brought back memories of Gerhard Berger’s equally shocking crash at Tamburello back in 1989, but thanks to the tireless work of safety pioneers such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Jean Todt and Dr Sid Watkins, flash fires have been a thing of the past until now.

The Halo seemed to save Grosjean’s life, because his Haas car went straight into the barrier, head on. That the marshals were also on the scene so quickly was also laudable, and Grosjean’s ‘protection cell’ did its job perfectly as his car split in two behind the cockpit, as designed.

It was also crucial to Grosjean’s survival that the extraction tests with the Halo are practiced again and again, the Frenchman emerging from the fireball and to the safety of the medical car and to hospital via helicopter with suspected minor burns and broken ribs, at the time of writing.

Upon the detailed television replays, it appeared as if a piece of debris flew straight into the front right tyre of the Haas, but it was also possible that Grosjean was trying to veer right to avoid a possible collision with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo off line to his left. Compounding that, he moved into an unsuspecting Daniil Kvyat behind, pitching him into the barriers. It was a series of unfortunate events that thankfully ended well and tantamount to the strides made forward in this most risky of sports.

“It was a big surprise for us as well, I’ve never seen that much fire in twelve years. I’ve not seen that much fire from an impact like that,” commented Medical Car driver Alan van der Merwe, who helped Grosjean from the blaze. “I’m sure it was only a second or so, but it felt like ages. And then Romain just started to get out of the car himself, which it pretty amazing for an accident like that.

“There was some relief when we got back here, and he was okay. It just goes to show that all of the systems we’ve delivered, everything worked hand in hand. The halo, the barriers, the seatbelts. Everything worked as it should and without one of those things it could have been a very different outcome.”

Upon the restart, there was yet more drama, Lance Stroll finding himself upside down after being tagged by Kvyat again in another racing incident. The Halo again doing its job.  And more bad news for Bottas, who suffered a puncture after picking up another piece of debris or touching Albon into Turn 4.

And so Hamilton resumed after the second restart in the lead, ahead of Max Verstappen and the fast-starting Sergio Perez, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris. The drama was only just beginning, Ocon passing Leclerc and Sainz taking Ricciardo as the order shifted again.

The only normality, in this most alarming of races, appeared to be the serene progress of Hamilton up front, the champion continuing to keep Verstappen and Perez behind. The fight for the remaining points places was another story, the midfield battle producing excellent scraps and brave overtakes as the all-important pit stops loomed large.

Hamilton was the first of the big hitters to pit again on lap 20 for a set of mediums, a quick 2.4s stop putting himself out in good position and back into the lead when the stops played out, Verstappen and Perez opting for the white-banded hard set of tyres.

With the race leaders on different strategies, Hamilton pitted again on lap 36 for a set of hards to take him to the end of the race. A slower stop for Verstappen followed, but he emerged in second position ahead of Perez, and even had time for another late stop for a fresh set of softs with ten laps remaining.

And that’s the way it looked likely to finish. But with Perez nailed on for another podium, his Mercedes engine gave out with just two lap to go, meaning Albon finished third ahead of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. Pierre Gasly was sixth on a one stopper as Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top ten under the Safety Car.

“It really was physically very demanding,” added race winner Hamilton. “I think with the break we had at the beginning, we’ve been into the mindset to go out and we got a good start and then that 45 to an hour wait that we had, it’s so easy to step out of the zone. So that was quite tricky. But then getting back in, they (Red Bull) had a lot of speed today, so I was flat out, the whole way trying to keep them at bay and it’s physical.

“This track has always been physical, lots of high speed corners so I was definitely feeling it and I managed to reply to him when I needed to, but I was sliding around a lot and wasn’t really sure how it would play out at the end. But I’m massively grateful, thankful to my team, because at the end of the day, they did a great job with the strategy and what a privilege it is to be able to get another result like this.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.