Alonso 'lucky to be alive' after spectacular crash
Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30
Fernando Alonso was "lucky to be alive" after surviving one of the most spectacular accidents the sport has seen for years in the Australian Grand Prix yesterday.
Alonso's McLaren was destroyed in the 200mph crash, which saw his car barrel-roll across the gravel after hitting the back of Esteban Gutierrez before flipping over and finally landing to rest.
The sport breathed an enormous sigh of a relief as Alonso crawled out of the car following one of the most terrifying incidents in recent memory.
Alonso, who was checked over by the doctors and declared fit and healthy, other than having sore knees, admitted that he feared this could be his last accident, paying tribute to the work of the FIA, motorsport's governing body, in improving safety.
"I'm thankful I'm alive and that nothing serious happened - it was a big shunt," he said. "I was in the car flying and bouncing around. I could see the sky, then the ground, then the sky again.
"Then, when the car landed, I saw a little gap and I got out quickly to make sure that my mum, who was watching the race on TV at home, could see that I was OK.
"We risk our lives every time we get in a Formula One car. These things happen, but I'm extremely happy to be OK.
"The reason I'm still alive is probably thanks to all the fantastic work the FIA has done over the past 10 or 15 years to improve safety - work they continue to do."
The horrifying accident happened on lap 17 as Alonso was chasing Gutierrez, heading towards the braking zone for turn three, arriving at some 200mph.
The Spaniard moved to the outside. Gutierrez's line had been consistent but was moving slightly to the left.
Alonso's right-front tyre hit the left rear of the Haas, sending him straight into the wall at the side of the circuit.
The gravel trap then launched his McLaren into the air. The wreckage was almost unrecognisable.
The accident was reminiscent of one here 20 years ago when Martin Brundle, driving for Jordan, went careering into the air after hitting another car at the same corner.
The race was stopped for 20 minutes while marshals cleared away the debris, before, they restarted behind the safety car
The podium for the season-opening Grand Prix - Nico Rosberg winning from Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel - had a familiar feel but it was bedlam to get there.
The race fell Rosberg's way as a poor start for Mercedes team-mate Hamilton and some questionable strategy by Ferrari allowed him to stroll to victory in an action-packed race.
Rosberg did not even have to overtake anyone on his route to the chequered flag.
Elsewhere, there were impressive debuts for Britain's Jolyon Palmer (11th) and for Haas, the new American team, who scored points with sixth for Romain Grosjean.
Ferrari showed promise, although Kimi Raikkonen retired in a blaze of fire, seemingly with an engine failure.
Hamilton, who does not lead the World Championship for the first time in 18 months, warmly congratulated Rosberg as they prepared for the podium.
"It's been a great weekend," Rosberg said. "Thank you to the team. The car has been unreal today. We absolutely loved it.
Hamilton did not sound too disappointed. "Honestly it was a great race," the 31-year-old said. "I've had much worse in the first race. I take it as a real bonus to come back and bag the points today."
Stuck on the outside in turn one, the champion had to bail out, clipping his front wing on Rosberg's left rear tyre. Vettel was followed through by Raikkonen, while Hamilton fell back down to sixth. We had a race on our hands.
Hamilton pulled an exquisite pass on Felipe Massa's Williams for fifth on lap four, but he could not repeat the feat on the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen.
"I can't get past this guy," Hamilton complained. Under strict new rules on radio communication, his engineer could not be of much assistance.
After Alonso's crash it was soon clear Vettel was not going to open up the gap he needed for a final stop, and he lost his cushion when Raikkonen's car expired in the pits on the 21st lap, flames coming out of its engine's airbox after suspected turbocharger failure.
When Vettel pitted for his final tyre change on the 35th lap, Rosberg went ahead, and Vettel was also overtaken by local hero Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton.
The Australian then stopped for some supersoft tyres on the 42nd lap, leaving Hamilton a clear run at last at his team-mate. He began to lower the gap as Vettel was coming at him on his fresher and faster compound tyres.
On his worn tyres Hamilton made a small error going into turn one on the 51st lap, and the Ferrari seemed ready to pounce.
But then Vettel ran wide onto the grass in turn 15 four laps later, leaving Rosberg to lead Hamilton home by eight seconds, with the Ferrari 1.5sec further back.