By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Formula One held its breath after witnessing the mega crash of Sergio Perez during the last qualification session for the Monaco Grand Prix. The Mexican rookie got out of shape exiting the tunnel, ran wide to the left, lost control, hit a bump and ran into the Armco on the right before he crashed sideways into the barrier with 130mph.
It was clear the 21-year old Perez had hit the barrier very hard, after the first contact with the Armco images later revealed he took his hands off the steering wheel and held his head just before he slammed into the barrier. The accident happened during the final 2,5 minutes of Q3, marshals and safety crews reacted quickly and the race was immediately red-flagged to make way for the rescue vehicles.
It took quite a while before Perez was brought to the waiting ambulance and was transferred to the Hospital Princess Grace in Monaco where he was examined by the medical staff. After a scan and a further thorough examination, around 16:25 local time Perez’ Sauber team was informed he had suffered a concussion and a bruised thigh, but had escaped further injuries.
When the good new emerged, a sigh of relief went through the Monaco paddock, and especially Peter Sauber and his team were happy Perez had only sustained minor injuries. “Of course we are very relieved that Sergio wasn’t seriously injured. Up to the accident he was doing very well in qualifying, and also better than expected as he had outperformed all his direct competitors,” team principal Sauber said.
Without a doubt Sauber must have thought more than once about what had happened to Austrian Karl Wendlinger in 1994, who had a similar accident and sustained serious head injuries and remained in a coma for 16 days, just two weeks after the fatal crashes of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and Brazilian three-times World Champion Ayrton Senna at Imola.
It's always very worrying for a team when you see an accident of that magnitude
Sauber have announced they will investigate the accident according to Technical Director James Key. “First and foremost we are obviously relieved with the reports that Sergio is okay. It's always very worrying for a team when you see an accident of that magnitude, so it's good to hear that he is fundamentally okay,” Key said. And he added, “We are looking into what happened. There is no indication at the moment from the data we have seen that there was a problem with the car. But we have to talk to Sergio to investigate further what happened.”
Perez was in fact the fourth victim of the Monaco street circuit this Grand Prix weekend. On Friday Lotus Renault driver Vitaly Petrov also lost control exiting the tunnel, he slammed into the Armco as well but fortunately didn’t hit the barrier that separates the escape road from the race track. During the last free practice session this morning, the same happened with Nico Rosberg, who did hit the barrier, but with the rear wheel of his car, and he bounced off the barrier instead of crashing into it.
Both cars were badly damaged, Renault managed to repair Petrov’s car in time, but the damage on the Mercedes of Rosberg was extensive and he narrowly made it into Q1, where he showed his extraordinary talent and set fifth fastest time after just one lap on the Monte Carlo circuit.
HRT driver Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control when he turned into Sainte Devote, his car got a little bit sideways, but enough to crash into the barrier that protects the exit of Saint Devote. His car could not be repaired in time, and the Italian had to sit out qualifying.
A number of drivers have blamed the many bumps in the circuit for the recent crashes, and indeed it was clear to see that during the accidents of Petrov, Rosberg and Perez, they first hit a bump at the right of the tunnel exit, and consequently lost control of their car. The design of the barrier which as said separates the escape road from the circuit itself has now also come under scrutiny, but there are also other circumstances that might possibly have contributed to Perez’ heavy crash this afternoon.
Fernando Alonso commented, “It is a combination of many things -- the poor grip that we have with the new rules and this year, the aerodynamics of the car that are for sure going for an extreme way of developing the car with the blown diffuser and exhausts.”
Drivers have also criticized the bumpy braking zone at the tunnel exit. Petrov about the situation, “The bump is five times worse than last year and it was really difficult to brake there all weekend. I have a real problem with my back now.”
Australian Mark Webber said, “That's an area we have to have a look at. There's a few places around here like that.” Rubens Barrichello, chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) agrees there are too many bumps on the circuit, and he should know, as he crashed out of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix after hitting a pothole. “With the bump like it is right now, the car jumps, goes to the side, loses its brakes and you have no run-off,” the Brazilian explained.
As soon as you lock the rears there, you are a passenger and you're into the wall
Barrichello had already campaigned for a ban of DRS in Monaco directly after the Spanish Grand Prix, but the FIA decided not to ban the overtaking device, but instead banned the use of DRS in the tunnel. It now looks Barrichello was right, with DRS activated in the tunnel, the speed would have been much higher and there would have been less down force with the rear wing opened, and Perez’ accident would have been far worse.
Jenson Button had a similar accident in 2003, and thinks the safety of the chicane needs to be improved. “I think the cars have improved dramatically with safety since Karl Wendlinger's accident and the barrier has been moved back since my accident,” the Briton said. “I'm really happy that we don't have DRS there; it was a great decision by the FIA," he said. "Even without it we see that this is a danger spot for us,” he said to the BBC. “Under braking it is a little bit bumpy and as soon as you lock the rears there you are a passenger and you're into the wall. You are just sliding along like a sled and it always aims for the middle barrier,” said Button
Ironically enough, Rosberg had joined Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Felipe Massa and Alonso earlier that morning to attend a FIA road safety campaign together with FIA President Jean Todt, an hour later Rosberg crashed.
After Rosberg’s crash, FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting reacted quickly and had the so-called ‘speed-humps’, which are positioned there to discourage drivers from cutting off the chicane, removed from the chicane after the accident, as TV footage had showed they had contributed to the heavy crash.
All-in-all Perez was very lucky to escape serious injuries, Sauber has now officially confirmed the Mexican will not take part in tomorrow’s race, Perez will have to stay overnight at the Hospital Princess Grace for observation, a standard procedure after sustaining a concussion.