Formula One’s halo cockpit protection device was credited as critical in having saved lives at the British Grand Prix after a terrifying first-lap crash at Silverstone.
The Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu survived an enormous high-speed smash and acknowledged the device had been key in protecting him from serious injury.
The incident-packed race was also interrupted by environmental protesters, with Lewis Hamilton expressing support for their cause afterwards.
At turn one on the opening lap a multi-car shunt involved Zhou’s Alfa Romeo hitting the barriers at high speed – his car was flipped and came to a halt between the armco and the catch fencing. It then took some time to extract the 23-year-old, who is the first Chinese driver in Formula One and in his rookie season.
Zhou was safely removed and taken to the medical center for examination. He was conscious and was released having been declared fit. “I’m OK, all clear. Hello saved me today. Thanks everyone for your kind messages!” he posted on Twitter.
George Russell was clipped by Pierre Gasly in the incident also involving Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon and the Mercedes driver then collided with Zhou, turning his car over, causing it to hurtle at high-speed upside down across the gravel trap, with impact on the halo which protects the drivers’ head, before hitting the barriers and sailing over them into the fence. Albon was taken to hospital for a check-up but was also pronounced unhurt.
The scale and speed of the incident was horrific and Zhou was remarkably lucky to have escaped.
He was upside down for a considerable distance and the tire barriers barely slowed the car but instead launched it into the fencing.
The accident occurred only hours after Roy Nissany and Dennis Hauger had a high-speed crash in an F2 race in which Hauger landed on Nissany’s car, the halo once again crucial in preventing serious injury. The main event was won by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, from Sergio Pérez and Lewis Hamilton – and Sainz was full in his praise for the halo.
“The fact he came out of it is crazy,” he said. “I find it incredible that you can come out of it. It just shows, we sometimes criticize the FIA but you have to give it to them how much they have been helping us.
“If you see the crash in F2 and what happened with the halo, today they have probably saved two lives.”
Just as the cars were returning to the pit with the race red-flagged after the accident a protest by the environmentalist group Just Stop Oil took place. Seven protesters gained access to the track and sat down with the cars still circulating before they were removed by the authorities.
When informed of the incident afterwards, Hamilton, who has expressed a commitment to environmental issues appeared to back them. When told it was by Just Stop Oil, he said: “Big up those guys.”
When asked to make his position clear, Hamilton added: “I didn’t know what the protesters were for, so I only just found out. I just said big up the protesters. I love that people are fighting for the planet. So we need more people like them.”
He later qualified that support via Instagram, posting: “I wasn’t aware of the protests and while I’ll always support those standing up for what they believe in, it must be done safely. Please don’t jump onto our race circuits to protest. We don’t want to put you in harm’s way.”
A Mercedes spokesperson then issued a statement clarifying that Hamilton had been unaware of the method of protest the activists had used. “Lewis was endorsing their right to protest but not the method that they chose, which compromised their safety and that of others.”
Ch Insp Tom Thompson of Northamptonshire police confirmed seven protesters had been detained. “I’m really disappointed that this group of people ignored our warnings prior to race day and made the incredibly dangerous decision to enter the track,” he said.
“Thankfully, we had plans in place for an eventuality such as this and the group were swiftly removed and arrested by our officers.”
Just Stop Oil took responsibility for the actions in a tweet. “A group of supporters of Just Stop Oil have stormed the track at the British Grand Prix,” it read. “If you are more outraged about this disruption than our world being burned before our eyes, then you need to get your priorities straight.”