Zhou Guanyu, the rookie Formula One driver, hailed the 'Halo' for saving his life after the overhead safety device twice prevented horror at a packed Silverstone.
The British Grand Prix was brought to a halt in chaotic scenes as Zhou ploughed over a tyre barrier upside down, shortly before a dangerous track invasion by oil-use protesters. Seven arrests were made over the demonstration.
F1 and Silverstone were left breathing a major sigh of relief, however, that both Zhou and Formula Two driver Roy Nissany - also in a death-defying crash - left the circuit without even a bruise.
The Chinese driver, whose Alfa Romeo flipped over, spun countless times and eventually careered into a gap between the tyre barrier and catch fence, thanked 2017 safety improvements by the FIA. "I’m OK, all clear," Zhou wrote on social media. "Halo saved me today. Thanks everyone for your kind messages!"
After the race got underway, Carlos Sainz fought his way past Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc in a brilliant 10-lap shootout to claim his maiden Formula One win. Sergio Perez finished second and Lewis Hamilton third, and all three men on the podium - as well as George Russell, whose Mercedes had come into wheel contact with Zhou - expressed relief that the day had passed without serious casualties.
"It was incredible, the crash," Sainz said. "The fact he [Zhou] came out of it is crazy. We sometimes criticise the FIA but you have to give it to them how much they have helped us." He said the F2 crash which saw Dennis Hauger's vehicle land on top of Nissany's cockpit could have been equally deadly. "Today, the FIA has saved two lives, and we need to give it to them for the amazing work they are doing in safety," Sainz added.
Footage shared by spectators at the sold-out venue showed some fans running to escape potential harm as Zhou's car skidded upside down along the gravel and towards the fence immediately in front of them (watch slideshow below).
Zhou, who had started ninth, was tipped over on the gravel after Pierre Gasly got sandwiched between the Alfa Romeo on his left and Russell on the right at the run down to Turn One.
The moment Zhou's Alfa Romeo rolled over in horror crash.
Zhou is 'ok' and stretchered to medical centre; Russell and Albon are also out of the race. pic.twitter.com/YXifaPQ3mL
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) July 3, 2022
Insane fan footage of the Silverstone crash. Zhou’s car ends up right next to them 😮
🎥 ted_meagher98 on Tiktok pic.twitter.com/UPhU0aVbUL
— WTF1 (@wtf1official) July 4, 2022
The red flag went up immediately, before at least five trespassers in orange t-shirts ran on the track at the Wellington Straight and sat down. They were removed in a matter of seconds, with spectators looking on and jeering the disruption caused by the protesters involved.
The Zhou crash was the worst in several years in F1. In 2018, an FIA investigation into a Belgian Grand Prix collision concluded the Halo also saved Leclerc from being hit on the visor by Fernando Alonso's endplate.
Russell later expressed relief at Zhou's escape as he admitted Mercedes had made a mistake in starting him on hard tyres. "There was just no grip whatsoever," he told Sky Sports. "Firstly, I’m glad to see Zhou is okay after an absolutely horrific incident. Ultimately we took a risk starting on the hard because I made a mistake in qualifying and we were starting out of position."
The crash caused a 53-minute delay to the Grand Prix, and Russell, the Mercedes driver, was not permitted to restart. “I jumped out of the car to see that Zhou was okay," he explained. "When I got back to the car I couldn’t restart it. As soon as you get outside assistance you cannot restart the race.”
A record crowd of 142,000 fans in Northamptonshire watched the most enthralling race of the season. Sainz, Perez and Hamilton all took on fresh tyres ahead of the safety car re-start, but Ferrari left Leclerc out on old rubber and the championship challenger was left in no-man’s land, dropping from first to fourth, and dealing his title hopes a blow on a day where Max Verstappen limped home in seventh after he sustained a puncture and damage to his Red Bull bodywork.
Zhou was approaching the 160mph opening Abbey corner when Russell tagged the right rear of the Chinese driver’ machine, sending him on to his roof.
Sainz said of recent safety improvements: "I feel so happy to be racing in Formula One where we are pushing at 200mph. You guys cannot imagine the speed we are doing in the high speed, changing direction, and knowing we can do it safely. I thank them for this and I love the sport for that."
Perez added: "They showed the accident and I was shocked. It has been a while since we have seen an accident like that. It is hard to see it, and then delete it from your mind and try to focus. When you hear people talking about a driver salary cap, we are the ones putting ourselves at risk so I don’t think it is a real thing to be talking about that. But the most important thing today is that nobody got hurt."