Zhou Guanyu, the novice Formula 1 driver, praised the ‘Halo’ for saving his life after the overhead safety device twice prevented horror on a packed Silverstone.
The British Grand Prix came to a halt in chaotic scenes when Zhou shortly before a dangerous rail invasion by protesters using oil† Seven arrests were made during the demonstration.
However, F1 and Silverstone had to breathe a sigh of relief that both Zhou and Formula 2 driver Roy Nissany – even in a deadly crash – left the track without even a bruise.
The Chinese driver, whose Alfa Romeo flipped over, turned numerous times and eventually ended up in a gap between the tire barrier and the crash barrier, thanked the FIA’s 2017 safety improvements. “I’m fine, everything clear,” Zhou wrote on social media. “Halo saved me today. Thanks everyone for your kind messages!”
After the race started, Carlos Sainz fought his way past Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc in a brilliant 10-lap shootout to claim his first Formula 1 win† Sergio Perez finished second and Lewis Hamilton third, and all three men on the podium – as well as George Russell, whose Mercedes had come into steering contact with Zhou – expressed relief that the day had passed with no serious casualties.
“It was unbelievable, the crash,” Sainz said. “The fact that he [Zhou] came out is crazy. We sometimes criticize the FIA, but you have to give them how much they have helped us.” He said the F2 crash saw that Dennis Hauger’s vehicle lands on top of Nissany’s cockpit could have been just as deadly. “Today the FIA saved two lives and we have to give it to them for the great job they are doing in safety,” Sainz added.
Footage shared by onlookers at the sold-out venue showed some fans running to escape potential damage as Zhou’s car skidded upside down on the gravel and toward the fence right in front of them (watch the video below).
Zhou, who had started ninth, was knocked over on the gravel after Pierre Gasly was wedged between the Alfa Romeo on his left and Russell on the right on the run-up to the first corner.
The red flag went out immediately, before at least five intruders in orange t-shirts ran and sat down on the track on the Wellington Straight. They were removed within seconds as onlookers watched, causing the disturbance caused by the protesters involved.
The crash in Zhou was the worst in years in F1. In 2018, an FIA investigation into a Belgian Grand Prix collision concluded that the Halo also saved Leclerc from a blow to the visor by Fernando Alonso’s end plate.
Russell later expressed relief at Zhou’s escape, as he admitted Mercedes made a mistake by starting him on hard tyres. “There was just no grip at all,” he told Sky Sports. “First of all, I’m happy to see that Zhou is okay after an absolutely horrific incident. In the end we took the risk of starting on the hard surface because I made a mistake in qualifying and we started out of position.”
The crash caused a 53-minute delay before the Grand Prix and Russell, the Mercedes driver, was not allowed to start again. “I jumped out of the car to see that Zhou was okay,” he explained. “When I got back to the car, I couldn’t restart it. Once you get outside help, you can’t restart the race.”
A record crowd of 142,000 fans in Northamptonshire watched the most exciting race of the season. Sainz, Perez and Hamilton all put on new tires for the safety car restart, but Ferrari left Leclerc on old rubber and the championship challenger remained in no man’s land, dropping from first to fourth and dealing his title hopes with a blow on a day when Max Verstappen stumbled home seventh after suffering a flat tire and damage to his Red Bull body.
Zhou was approaching the 160 km/h opening Abbey corner when Russell tapped the right rear of the Chinese driver’s machine and sent him to his roof. Sainz said of recent safety improvements: “I feel so happy to be racing in Formula 1, where we’re pushing at 200mph. You guys can’t imagine the speed we do in the high speed, changing direction and knowing we’re doing it can do it safely. I thank them for this and I love the sport for that.”
Perez added: “They showed the accident and I was shocked. It’s been a while since we’ve seen an accident like this. It’s hard to see it, and then get it out of your head and focus. “When you hear people talking about a salary cap for drivers, we’re the ones putting ourselves at risk, so I don’t think it’s real to talk about that. But the most important thing today is that no one got hurt.”