JUNE 15, 2004
Safety measures work well in Montreal
Reports that a tyre from Felipe Massa's Sauber flew into a grandstand have been exaggerated considerably and the fact that most of the reports wrongly identify the tyre in question underline the inaccuracy. The reports indicate that the left front wheel of the car was off the car when it hit the tyre barriers but this was not the case at all. TV footage and photographs clearly show that both front wheels were still on the Sauber as it careered across the gravel trap and went head-on into the tyre barrier. The wheels then folded back as they are designed to do, crushing the front of the sidepods on both sides of the cockpi and alhough detached from the car they were were still with the chassis. The right rear tyre also remained on the car but the left rear was not there. This was in fact the cause of the crash as it was torn off the car when something broke in the rear suspension at the moment Massa put on the brakes at the hairpin. The force of the breakage was such that the tyre was torn clean from the car, despite the fact that there were wheel tethers designed to withstand around five tons of force.
The tethers may help to explain the rather curious fact that the left rear tyre somehow ended up bouncing alongside the right hand side of the car as it went into the tyre barrier. Because Massa had no brakes, the car went into the tyre wall at considerable speed, Felipe undergoing an impact of something in the region of 30G for a split-second as the car decelerated but the tyre barrier, built from a series of tyre stacks inside a rubber conveyor belt, is designed to stop cars with progressive deceleration without them "submarining" beneath the tyres. The errant wheel hit the tyre barrier as well and a great deal of the energy was absorbed by the barriers. However the impact did deflect the tyre upwards, albeit at greatly reduced speed and according to reports cleared the debris fencing although the angle of its flight was such that it hit the ground, while travelling in a downward direction, in front of the grandstand. This impact absorbed almost all of the remaining energy although the tyre did rebound into the first row of the grandstand although by then it was not travelling fast enough to cause any serious damage or injury.
The various safety systems thus appear to have worked very well although when tyres come off cars and are deflected by secondary impacts (in this case with the tyre barrier) there are always going to be dangers. The FIA safety investigators will certainly be looking at what happened in an effort to see if there is anything that could reduce the risks still further.
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