Haas Formula One driver Roman Grosjean had a bizarre incident during Free Practice Two for the Malaysia Grand Prix on Friday. While coming through turn 12, his right rear tire was ripped apart by a drain cover that had come loose. The impact happened while he was traveling at about 168 miles per hour.
The sudden loss of the rear tire sent his car sliding across the track, through the gravel trap, and into the tire barrier.
Grosjean was unhurt in the crash, but his car sustained heavy damage (as did the drain cover).
The practice session was instantly red-flagged while the situation was assessed. Due to the time it would take to repair the drain cover and inspect the rest of the track, the session was not resumed.
Drain covers coming up are usually more of an issue—though still a rare one—at street circuits where there are manhole covers and the like all over the place. In 2016, during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, a drain cover came loose and struck the front of Jenson Button's McLaren. Much like that incident, the cover was first pulled up by the cars running in front of Grosjean.
In Monaco, in preparation for the race, the manhole and drain covers are welded into place to prevent this from happening. The drain covers along the side of purpose-built tracks are welded into place as well, and should not be able to be ripped up so easily.
While the covers in Monaco are large plates of metal like you would see on city streets around the world, the drain lid that came loose in Malaysia seemed to be a much thinner piece of metal. As a Mercedes and Ferrari ran over it before Grosjean, you could see the end peeling up like the lid of a tin of sardines, before it went flat again.
When Grosjean came through the corner, there was no visual indication of a problem on track ahead of him. Once he ran over the cover, it was pulled up and ripped right through the tire. The Haas car suffered major damage from the drain cover and impact with the tire wall.
The team has been given special dispensation to work past curfew to repair the car. Teams are permitted to break curfew two times per season. Due to the circumstances of the incident being completely beyond the control of the team, this instance would not count against their allocated curfew-breaks for the season.
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner was not at all happy with the drain cover coming loose.
"What happened to him should not happen," said Steiner in a press release from Haas. "Drain covers coming up at F1 circuits is just not acceptable in the year 2017. Let’s see what the authorities have to say to that and to explain that it doesn’t happen again."
The downforce levels produced by Formula One cars have been blamed for track damage this year. Maybe this was a case of welds that were previously strong enough but now not being able to withstand the new loads put on them by the 2017 cars. For whatever reason, the welds on this cover failed and the FIA was right in stopping the session to do repairs and a full track inspection. Hopefully, this is an isolated incident that won't be happening again as the race weekend goes on.