Romain Grosjean’s accident at the start of Formula 1’s Bahrain Grand Prix was one of the most violent and horrifying in recent years and as soon as it was known that he had been extricated from the scene the replays of the crash were shown – and repeatedly so. But was it too much?
Given the violent nature of the 137mph, 53G crash Grosjean suffered going into the inside guardrail, some of his fellow drivers felt distressed at the continuous manner in which the images were played back on the world feed throughout the lengthy stoppage.
The 19 drivers had a wait of over an hour before being called back to their cars once the barrier was replaced, during which time they had to contend with the barrage of the same images of Grosjean jumping away from the conflagration that was the obliterated remains of his Haas VF-20.
They had just seen one of their peers escape from one of the most violent accidents F1 has ever witnessed, then had to try and compose themselves once more to go back out onto the track for the restarted race.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who went on to score points in the restarted race, was angry in the immediate aftermath as he spoke to TV reporters in the press pen.
“The way the incident of Grosjean was broadcast over and over, the replays over and over was completely disrespectful and inconsiderate for his family, for all of our families watching,” he said.
“Every time I look at the TV it’s a ball of fire and his car is cut in half. We can see that tomorrow, we don’t need to see it today.
“For me, it was entertainment and they’re playing with all of our emotions. I thought it was pretty disgusting. Hopefully, some other drivers have spoken up. If that’s not how we all feel, I’ll be very surprised.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, speaking post-race, also voiced a similar stance. “I disagree with the fact you have to show the images over and over again.” he said.
“In the end, we are human beings racing and not objects. I know people like the car being on fire, and crashes, and it’s exciting, but actually, it’s not so exciting when you’re in the car.”
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas saw both sides of the argument, stating: “I think that, as always, when there’s a crash and once they know the driver is OK, they always like to repeat those images, because they feel the spectators want to see them.
“But there’s a limit as well, it could have been just a fraction different shunt and there would have been no way for him to get out of the car. There’s a limit on things. I was watching the screens, because I wanted to see what happened, but once I saw it, I was then avoiding seeing anymore the replays.
“I don’t know, maybe that’s a question for the people watching, the fans, if they want to see 20 repeats of that or not. I don’t know really how to answer it, but I was trying to avoid it because I had a race to focus on.”
Haas boss Guenther Steiner nonetheless suggested that repeatedly replaying the incredible footage would have quelled concerns for those watching.
“You can have two opinions, but my opinion it ended lucky and nothing bad happened so why not show it to make sure people understand yeah it was bad but everyone is okay – we wanted to get the news out as soon as possible,” added Steiner.
“It’s difficult to contact all family, friends, people, if we can send one message via TV and stuff like this it’s much more powerful, so showing him jumping out yeah it is dramatic but it ended good, for sure if something bad happens it shouldn’t be shown.
“I’m not an expert in TV editing but in my opinion, a good thing was shown, it was a bad accident but we got lucky and everything ended okay.”
In the modern age of broadcasting where the commercial rights holders have full control over the images played out to the world, it’s commonplace for images of serious accidents to be withheld until the health of everyone at the scene can be verified to ensure a potential death is not broadcast in the public arena – and rightly so.
It is also understood that while the health of Grosjean was realised as soon as footage of him in the medical car was seen by those in the broadcast centre, a list of marshals and photographers was checked and cleared to ensure no-one else was caught up in the accident.
It would be negligent to display images of a potential serious injury or even death before knowing the facts of the situation, after all, the world feed footage of Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident was never broadcast.
But when leading drivers voice their concerns, particularly given they still had a race to run, it would also be negligent not to listen to their stances.
It was, after all, one of the most shocking accidents in several years, with such a violent impact – and subsequent fireball – not witnessed in Formula 1 for a generation.
Broadcast media should also be mindful of the repetition, but it is also their duty to give critical and detailed analysis to the viewers at the time, but some restraint should still be shown.
An F1 spokesperson defended the images shown spoke to Motorsport.com: “Firstly, at F1 this isn’t about entertainment and a few procedures and protocols are in place before any decision to run a replay is made,” he said.
“Following an accident, all onboards, helicopter feeds etc are cut. There are direct comms between race control and the broadcast centre.
“No footage is shown until there is confirmation that the driver is OK. On this occasion, at this point, F1 showed Romain with the ambulance, helmet off and walking with aid.
“No replays of an accident are shown until there is approval and confirmation from race control/FIA that all persons are safe (driver, marshals, doctors etc). Replays then started.
“The context of what a viewer sees and hears with the commentary is important, with them talking about the safety of Romain, the halo, FIA safety improvements, and updates from the medical centre.
“There is constant dialogue between F1, FIA /Race Control, and sound judgement on viewers, families and those affected.”
While the spokesperson believes the right action was taken, I feel there should have been some consideration for the drivers in the pitlane. Perhaps cutting the feed and displaying something else, or just ending the transmission entirely.
FOM should review its policy going forward with regards to such accidents, however, few and far between they are.
Being able to balance a fair and critical analysis is certainly a must in the right environment in order to understand how such events can transpire, but overexposure to those unsettling images for entertainment sake across the world feed is not fair to the parties closest to those involved. A ‘duty of care’ in such scenarios should be taken into consideration.
I can understand it is a difficult tightrope to walk because such an event can be can allow us to suffer from some form of morbid curiosity in such situations, much like how we all want to look at an accident on the public road. Such curiosity can be managed if FOM were to review its own policy on replay transmissions in the future.