Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver Zhou Guanyu has spoken at length for the first time since his monster crash on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix.
Zhou – 2022’s sole rookie – was starting the Silverstone race from ninth place when he was sent airborne as part of a chain reaction triggered by contact between Pierre Gasly and George Russell.
Zhou’s Alfa flipped over and he was launched across the gravel trap and into the space between the barriers and the catch fencing.
He was eventually recovered from his stricken C42 and sent to the medical centre where he received checks before swiftly being discharged without any significant injuries.
On the Thursday ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix, Zhou spoke at length with the media about his crash, his recovery and the lessons he learned from his first major crash in F1.
“Once the flip happened, the first thing I was trying to do was trying to release my hand off the steering wheel,” Zhou explained.
“Because you never know, you can break your hand very easily with a crash like that, and because while I was just rolling on the ground I knew that I’d be facing a massive impact coming up because the car wasn’t stopping.
“And yeah, I tried to lock myself in a position that is the most safest possible, just waiting for the last impact. Just holding the hand backwards, but keep it reasonably tensioned so it doesn’t go flying around when you have that last impact. So that was the case.
“Once I was basically stopped, I didn’t know where I was, because I was upside down. Basically, there was [some fluid] leaking. I wasn’t sure if it was from my body or is this from the car?
“So I just tried to switch off the engine because the engine was still on by then. I knew if the fire starts, it will be difficult to get out. So I switched my engine off. And everything was fine.”
Zhou said he didn’t “realise until I saw the pictures” that he was stuck between the barrier and fencing nor who he’d made contact with.
He watched the crash and the race back on Sunday but hasn’t seen it since then.
“I kind of slid myself a little bit out,” Zhou explained when The Race asked him how he got out.
“So at least to have my leg, my feet already kind of out of the top of the seat. And they were able to pull me out.
“I didn’t realize I was between the barriers. I was thinking I was next to the barriers. But I was actually between the barrier and the fence, which I don’t know how I survived.
“But looking back, obviously, the halo I saw saved me.”
Zhou said he “felt sick” watching the incident back and took Monday off but returned to the gym on Tuesday to check his physical condition ahead of the weekend.
The 23-year-old said he “feels back to normal” and only had a bit of bruising that faded after Monday morning.
Alfa Romeo and the FIA are conducting an investigation into the crash, and there’s already an obvious point for future improvement according to Zhou.
“I already spoke to the team during the whole week, with the first impact and where I landed on the first flip,” Zhou said.
“The team said it’s still investigating but the first hit is much harder than what they tested [to pass the] safety tests – so it’s like, a few times harder than numbers we run for tests.
“That’s probably created a problem that came up straight away.
“I’m more curious for the future, can we change something about the barriers? So you don’t have a driver getting stuck.”
Zhou revealed his helmet only suffered a bit of scratched paint and the rear spoiler – which is intentionally lacking structural integrity compared to the rest of the helmet – broke as “normal”.
The Alfa driver was caught up in the incident along with numerous other drivers including Alex Albon and George Russell, both of whom had to retire along with Zhou after the crash.
Albon was taken to Coventry Hospital after his visit to the medical centre but was discharged on Sunday night.
Zhou said he was texting Albon all the way home and praised “sportsman” Russell for his role in checking Zhou after the crash – something Zhou only discovered after watching it back after the crash.
The Chinese driver says he has so concerns about getting back behind the wheel and was texting his engineers on Sunday night to ask if the seat in his car was OK.
“Happy to have back-to-back races because if you had a summer break after that would be terrible, because you would be thinking about it, repeating the crash in your mind again and again,” Zhou said.
“Even though you try and avoid it, you would somehow find it somewhere. Good to be back [racing] as soon as I could.”
Zhou also added that the British GP was the first time he had his “complete family” present at the race, so it was a “heart attack” moment for those members who were able to watch him for the first time since he got to F1 – and his mum, who’s been ever-present since the Bahrain GP season-opener and was the first to visit Zhou at the medical centre.