"A nightmare scenario" - How the drivers react to the possibly worst crash in Formula E history
A heavy shunt overshadowed the Formula E race in Rome on Saturday. A total of eight cars were involved in the collision, which occurred at one of the fastest parts of the Circuito Cittadino dell'EUR. All drivers remained uninjured. After the race, those involved commented on what was perhaps the most serious and costly accident in nine years of Formula E. Antonio Felix da Costa is certain that the halo saved his life in the crash.
Jaguar driver Sam Bird had lost control of his car on a bump in turn 6. He hit the wall backwards and came to a halt immediately behind the corner. Since this section of the track is "blind", the approaching drivers Sebastien Buemi and Edoardo Mortara were unable to avoid the Jaguar.
As a result, Antonio Felix da Costa, Lucas di Grassi and Robin Frijns were also involved in the collision and immediately had to retire. The Gen3 cars of Jean-Eric Vergne, Norman Nato, Stoffel Vandoorne and Pascal Wehrlein were also damaged. Race control immediately stopped the race with a red flag to clear the debris field. After more than 40 minutes the race continued with only 13 cars remaining.
"I hit a drain in an unfortunate angle and it sent me into the wall," Bird described the cause of the pile-up to e-Formula.news. "After that, the car slid back onto the racing line. That was a really scary crash. I'm very happy that everyone is okay."
Jaguar team principal James Barclay described on Formula E's TV world feed, "That was a very, very nasty accident, a real nightmare scenario. At the fastest part of the track in a blind corner... The most important thing is that the car (the crash structure of the Gen3 car) remained stable. It did its job and protected the drivers."
Felix da Costa: "The Halo saved my life today"
The first driver to crash into Bird's car at high speed was Sebastien Buemi. "It was a bit unlucky how Sam rolled back onto the track," the Swiss driver described to e-Formula.news. "There were no flags at that point. That corner is blind, you get there at full throttle. And then you see a car standing there. I couldn't pass it on the left or the right, because at that speed you can't just steer or you'll spin. I feel, there was nothing I could have done. It was a big accident, so of course that's very frustrating."
? Après être sorti indemne du terrible carambolage lors du #RomeEprix, António Félix da Costa remercie le halo qui lui a "sauvé la vie" ! ?— Off Track (@OffTrack_FR) July 15, 2023
? "Le halo m'a sauvé la vie aujourd'hui, j'en suis sûr à 100%. Ce fut le moment le plus effrayant de ma vie."
(? @eFORMULAnews /… pic.twitter.com/lB6V7lwFhc
Next, Porsche driver Antonio Felix da Costa was hit hard. Buemi's car virtually came flying off the right wall and crashed onto the Portuguese's cockpit area. "The halo saved my life today, I'm 100 percent sure. It was the scariest moment of my life," Felix da Costa told e-Formula.news. "Buemi and I were the first to arrive there without any warning and, of course, very fast. We didn't have a chance. I'm just happy that myself and everyone else is okay."
The third to crash into the Jaguar heavily was Edo Mortara. He hit Bird relatively centrally at the monocoque, but also came away unscathed. "I'm fine, thank you," the Swiss told us, explaining the situation: "Actually, I had already slowed down a bit when I saw the yellow flags, but unfortunately I couldn't see anything behind the corner. I had no chance to avoid him. That was a big one."
Müller: "That could have gone seriously wrong"
"That's a blind corner," ABT Cupra driver Robin Frijns, who also retired as a result of the accident, explained to ProSieben. "We arrive there at 160 or 170 km/h. I saw the yellow flag, so I went off the power pedal. And all of a sudden there are two cars in the middle of the track, right on my line. When you brake at that high speed, you lose the rear, and that's what happened to me. I touched him (Bird) slightly and damaged the left rear of my car, so my race was over. But Sam's car looked really bad."
Frijns' teammate, Nico Müller, was one of the lucky drivers to make it through the debris field unscathed. After the race, he described the situation to e-Formula.news: "That's exactly what I was afraid could happen. We know that turn 6 is difficult, especially with these cars. It's no longer a corner like it used to be, through which you simply drive at full throttle. You're on the limit. That could have gone seriously wrong."
McLaren driver Jake Hughes had also fallen victim to the fast left-hand turn already in qualifying and was unable to start the race due to his impact and the associated repair work. So he watched the huge shunt on TV. "That's obviously a pretty tricky spot this year with the Gen3 car," he told ProSieben. "I hit a bump on the racing line. Once the car takes off, you're just a passenger. Sam (Bird) was probably in a slightly different spot than I was. I'm just glad everyone is okay."
Adjustments to track design needed? Drivers disagree
Has the fast-paced uphill section become too dangerous in the Gen3 era of Formula E? We asked various drivers this question after the race - and received very different answers. One who would like to see the fast turn 6 changed is unsurprisingly Sam Bird. "They need to adjust the drains. The place is just too fast to have bumps and drains like that. For me, that's too much. Sure, 99 percent of the time you'll get through there in one piece, but it just takes one small mistake - that wasn't even really a mistake..."
Müller also thinks Formula E should react, even in the short term: "I think you have to think about something for tomorrow, for example waving double yellow there," the Swiss explains to us. He supports Bird's suggestion to take on the manhole covers: "That is of course more effort, but would be worthwhile at the point, I think."
Felix da Costa has a different opinion: "I think it's part of racing. We drive on street circuits at high speeds, so something like this can happen," says the Porsche driver. Mortara agrees: "That's a difficult corner, but we have a lot of those in this championship. We're used to driving on street circuits where there are high-speed corners and lots of bumps. It's just not ideal that the corner is blind. Then when a car spins, you can't see it, that's all. It was just a very unfortunate incident."
Ahead of Sunday's race in Rome, almost all teams have repair work ahead of them. Various new chassis are to be built overnight. One person is particularly sorry about this: Sam Bird, who has already suffered several serious accidents this season as well as causing two team-internal collisions. "My guys are probably fed up with having to iron out my mistakes. We will have to use a replacement chassis. This car is no longer fit for motorsport," said the dismayed Brit.
qdditional reporting by Timo Pape