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F3 Crash Analysis: What saved 17-year-old Sophia Floersch's life at Macau?

Macau Formula Three Grand Prix - 60th Macau Grand Prix
Macau Formula Three Grand Prix - 60th Macau Grand Prix
Dev Tyagi
OFFICIAL
Modified 19 Nov 2018, 18:32 IST
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The world of motor-sports was all about a slew of messages extended to German teenage driver Sophia Floersch's life on November 18, 2018. Everywhere you went, whatever you read or saw, the message was loud and clear. At the wake of the horrible Formula 3 crash witnessed at Macau, prayers and wishes were dedicated to the young German driver who was involved in what can only be said to be, a miracle escape.

There's honestly no other way to put it other than that- is it?

Approaching a sharp-right hander as a backmarker in the middle of the contest, German driver Sophia Floersch spun out of control, skidded off the track, did a literal summersault in thin air and crashed heavily.

The end result was a shocking spinal injury, painful to say in the least.

While no official word regarding the period of her recuperation is out but it can be easily expected that the 2018 season and along with it, some final opportunities of point-scoring is over.

Having said that, we need to ascertain that what might have saved Sophia at the end of the day. While it is truly heartening to note that the teenager driver took to Twitter to extend a kind word of regard to all those who were praying for her safety, it is important to highlight 'what saved the day?'

The tumultuous world of motor-racing has often always been at the receiving end of seeing some shocking accidents and sudden skirmishes. The pinnacle of motor-racing has already lost one giant too many in the form of Wolfgang Von Trips, Roald Ratzenberger, Ayrton Senna, Jules Bianchi and others.

But prior to Bianchi's painful demise, F1 didn’t witness any more casualties for nearly a period of three and a half decades until Senna's demise.

This is incredible, isn’t it?

So how did this improvement come about? It is worthwhile to note that in the event of Senna's Imola crash, Formula 1 went on to execute a string of safety measures that have been successfully outlined in all forms of motor racing in the build-up to F1, such as Formula 3, GP2 and others.

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But while there's more significant than saving lives and ensuring driver safety, one has to factor in an important perspective: could what actually happened at Macau been avoided?

If so, then what could've been done differently. At this point in time, the organizers of one of the most-watched Formula 3 contests, at Macau, have stated, in earnest that lessons are being taken to ensure that such a tumultuous event would not take place in the course of the future.

Here's what actually happened.

Nowhere in the lead or close to the frontrunners on the grid, Sophia emerged from the back of the fighting pack to make her way through to the front.

In this process, Sophia was trying to possibly go past Indian driver Jehan Daruvala, who was in front of the collapsing car.

Jehan, in turn, was trying to catch Chinse driver Guan Yu Zhuo, who had actually been pushing to slow down the car in the wake of yellow flags.

According to the Chinese driver, two positions in front of Sophia, since Jehan had been slowing down, and the brakes came into play significantly, Sophia had no time to react. As a result, Macau saw easily the most shocking incident in the recent times that has now snowballed into a viral footage on the Internet.

Collapsing with Jehan's right rear, Sophia crashed and spun around the Lisboa turn and hence, flew into the suspended thin air.

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The Speed Trap figures have provided the instance of Sophia's car and its believed to be around 276 k/hr.

That's an awful lot of speed to be turning without braking.

Here's something that can't be ruled out.

It's been exactly a year since the Macau organisers brought about changes in the race-track with respect to the kerbs.

This year, much before the start of the Macau Grand Prix event, new kerbs had been installed in a bid to remind drivers to slow down. Such a demarcation comes in handy especially to both touring as well as GT cars- in a bid to constrict them from abusing track limits at the stiff right-hander.

But what impact might that have had on Sophia's car?

The blue sausage kerbs, frequently used and seen in F1 are installed at the Macau track.

This, it is known, restricts the cars going on massive speeds, reminding them about speed and hence, caution.

The word from the event is that Sophia's car, upon making contact with the blue sausage kerbs would have been lifted into the air, thus causing the car to crash at a mighty force, the vehicle suspended in the air.

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Speaking on the matter in lucid detail, leading motorsport publication www.motorsport.com reported the following:

Judging from video footage that has appeared online, the lift from the kerbs raised Floersch car’s enough to clip Tsuboi’s car high up – rather than being a direct strike on the side of the cockpit.

It is this type of accident – similar to what happened at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Nick Heidfeld speared in to Takuma Sato – that has been a driving force in the FIA’s push for improved cockpit protection.

What's worthy of some introspection is to debate whether the outcome of the incident might have been different had Sohpia's car directly run into the tyre-barrier, instead of hitting the kerbs?

Also, the fencing at that particular part of the track actually pushed the recuperating driver's car backwards before it spiralled out of control.

It is also understood that the height of the fencing at the accident-spot had been raised. This, eventually led the fences to absorb the high velocity of the crash, thus saving more damage that might have happened.

That said, the incident now leaves the motorsports fraternity to come up with perhaps a new, novel way of preventing accidents and keeping damage control to a bare minimum.

Published 19 Nov 2018, 18:32 IST
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