SA race car driver Alan van der Merwe part of crew that rescued Romain Grosjean from fiery F1 wreck

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Romain Grosjean's F1 car catching fire after a horror crash.
Romain Grosjean's F1 car catching fire after a horror crash.
Formula 1
  • Romain Grosjean suffered a horror crash at the start of the Bahrain GP.
  • SA race car driver Alan van der Merwe was first on the scene in the F1 medical car.
  • The driver walked away alive with burns to his arms and legs, according to reports.

The 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix got off to horrible start that's left the racing community in shock. Just seconds after the race got underway, Romain Grosjean’s car careered off the track and into the barriers, catching fire.

Fortunately, Grosjean walked away with his life, with reports emerging that he suffered some burns to his leg. He has been taken to hospital.

See footage below:

What happened?

At the start of the race, Grosjean and the rest of the grid all jostled for position. Being in the mix of it all, Grosjean, like every driver around him, went for gaps en route to the best on-track position. Grosjean saw an opening to make up more positions and steered to the right, into Alfa Tauri driver Daniil Kvyat’s way.

The two drivers touched, and the contact sent Grosjean into the barriers. Grosjean's Haas caught fire almost instantly, bringing out the red flag to signal that the race has been stopped. The driver hopped out of his Haas F1 car that has been broken in half and was immediately taken to the medical centre for a checkup. Early reports indicate that Grosjean suffered mild burning to his arms and legs.

READ: Who is Alan van der Merwe? Meet the SA driver tasked with driving the F1 medical car

It is a very uncommon occurrence in Formula 1 to see a race car catch fire almost immediately. And even more shockingly, it breaking in half. Grosjean walking away from such an accident is testament of F1's advancements in safety. Every aspect of the race is built around the driver's safety and the halo - the black ring around the driver's head - added further protection since its introduction in 2018. This very device, the halo, effectively saved Grosjean's life today. Without it, the Haas driver would not have walked away with his life.

Formula 1 may be the pinnacle of motorsport as the premier form of racing, but its advancements in safety is bar none one of the best in the world.

First on the scene

Alan van der Merwe, a South African race car driver and entrepreneur who is the current driver of the Formula 1 medical car, said he's never seen anything like this in his career before.

Van der Merwe and Dr. Ian Roberts were first on the scene and helped Grosjean out of the wreck of the car.

Van der Merwe said: "It took us a few seconds to realise what was happening. It felt a lot longer." According Van der Merwe it was a stressful few minutes and he was relieved that the Haas driver was okay.

The Haas F1 team tweeted: "Thank you to Medical Car driver Alan van der Merwe, the circuit medical team and marshals for their quick thinking and actions in getting to Romain so soon after the accident."

The South African got behind the wheel of the F1 medical car in 2009 and has been fulfilling the role ever since. Speaking to the official Formula 1 website in an earlier interview, Van der Merwe noted that in his role there is no room for heroics, as safety is paramount in every event.

He said: "We'll be most visible if we make a mistake - so the biggest part of the job is being as anonymous as possible. We want to be on track as little as possible; when we are on track we never want to shunt the car, or get involved with any of the race cars. There's a lot that goes into that, from making sure the cars are mechanically right, to how we drive on the circuit to ensuring there is sufficient margin for error."

The 40-year-old driver's responsibilities revolve around transporting the FIA medical rescue coordinator, Dr Ian Roberts, and a doctor to the scene of an accident.

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