With safety in mind, the FIA, the world automobile governing body, examines the details of every major accident to better understand the factors that helped the driver and areas where improvements may still be possible. So also in the case of Guanyu Zhou’s accident at Silverstone.
One of the aspects that is likely to be examined in particular detail is what happened to the roll bar on the Alfa Romeo C42. Because pictures and videos show that it didn’t survive the first rollover and broke.
So it’s thanks to the halo and the other surrounding safety structures that the rider’s head didn’t hit the ground directly. The FIA will want to better understand what forces were involved and to what extent and how many times the roll bar impacted during the accident.
What role did the C42’s rollover structure play?
One factor that could play a role is that Alfa Romeo is currently the only team in Formula 1 to use a different rollover structure – with a central element in the middle and the air intake to the left and right of it. This concept has been used by various teams over the years.
Before Alfa Romeo, which only returned to this solution this year, Mercedes had rollover structures in this style in 2010, as well as Force India and Lotus Racing in 2011.
However, when Mercedes’ solution was introduced in 2010, the FIA intervened, fearing that its narrow structure could dig into the ground on soft ground if the impact was in the wrong place.
As a result, subsequent designs had to have a wider center member to comply with regulations. This structure was preferred over a traditional hanger for two reasons: aerodynamic and weight advantages. The latter in particular was an important factor for many teams in 2022.
In the latest incident, the FIA will have access to all the load and telemetry data, as well as the actual car parts, to understand exactly what factors played a role and whether the structure operated differently than a normal roll bar.
What a roll bar in Formula 1 has to withstand
It is important to clarify that the construction used by Alfa Romeo has passed the crash tests required by the FIA. The requirements for the primary rollover structure are to withstand loads of 60 kilonewtons laterally, 70 kilonewtons longitudinally and 105 kilonewtons vertically.
Zhou’s accident is a combined scenario of multiple and different impact moments. The rollover structure was heavily loaded in the vertical direction when the car landed on its roof. Continuous longitudinal loading then followed as the car slid across the track.
One could argue that the rollover structure initially did its job completely, while the nature of the accident then shifted more to the halo.
One aspect that could be considered for improvement is the way the rollover structure is connected to the chassis to define its function and effectiveness in a multi-impact accident.