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Zhou Guanyu has revealed how he feared he would be trapped in a burning car after his horrifying crash at last weekend’s British Grand Prix.
Zhou, 23, became wedged between the tyre wall and catch fencing after a multi-car crash at the first corner during which his Alfa Romeo flipped over at high speed. He was ultimately able to walk away without even a minor injury.
Speaking for the first time about the crash ahead of this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, he said: “When the flip happened, the first thing I was trying to deal with was to release my hand from the steering wheel because you can break your hand comparatively easily in a crash like that,” he said.
“When I was rolling on the ground I knew I’d be facing a massive impact because the car wasn’t stopping. And then I was trying to get myself in a position that was as safe as possible, just waiting for the last impact.
“Once I was stopped, I didn’t know where I was because I was upside down and the next thing I felt was there was some leaking, from I don’t know [where]. I wasn’t sure if I was my body or if it was the car.
“So I just tried to switch the engine off. I knew if the fire started it would be difficult to get out,” he said. “It did not hurt but the [liquid] was very cold on my left-hand side so I didn’t know if it was blood or if I had no feeling on my left-hand side.”
Zhou also revealed that he did not know that he was trapped between the barrier and the catch fencing and nor for how long.
The Chinese driver also said he had little time to think about anything more than the upcoming impact and did not realise the full scale of his crash and how important the halo was in saving his life until watching his crash afterwards.
“I was thinking I was next to the barriers but I was actually between the barriers and the fence. I don’t know how I survived and then looking back. Hopefully the halo saved me there from that.”
“I don’t think you get much bigger than that, to be honest. Nothing was going through my mind,” he said.
Zhou insisted he was not concerned about racing again less than a week after his smash.
“On Sunday night I was texting my engineer asking if my seat was okay,” he said. “Obviously the engine takes a bit of time [to see if it was okay], but for drivers the seat is important.”
“I was quite happy to have a back-to-back race because if we’d have had the summer break after that it would have been terrible. You’d have been repeating the crash again and again, even though you’d be trying to avoid it.”
Immediately after the crash George Russell, who was also caught up in the incident, went over to Zhou’s car and attended the scene. Russell said on Friday that it was “horrifying” to see Zhou trapped.
“He was fine and I could see he was moving. I think we all, as drivers, know you’re in there tight…then when you’ve got a tyre wall effectively on top of your head blocking your exit, hanging upside down it’s a horrible situation to be in,” the Mercedes driver said.
Zhou, however, said he couldn’t hear Russell but was thankful for his assistance. “It was very sportsmanlike and showed huge respect. It’s nice to have that,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton admitted that safety improvements in F1, notably the introduction of the 'halo' protective ring, had saved Zhou's life.
“The halo saved my life last year and several drivers' lives that we've recently seen," he said. “While we weren't supportive of it because of how it looked, we were told that it's a 17 per cent improvement on safety and you can't argue with that.
“There are still areas to improve. A car getting stuck behind that barrier and a driver getting stuck is something we've got to make sure doesn't happen again.
“It's a reminder to all those that are watching that it is a dangerous sport. We take real risks out there at crazy speeds.
“We're not just cruising around on a safety bumper car. We're exposed in a couple of areas and we've got to not take that for granted.”
Whilst Alexander Albon, who also suffered a shunt on lap one, ended his Sunday evening with a barbeque, Zhou had a less relaxing finish to an eventful day, sharing a familiar Silverstone traffic jam.
“I was stuck in traffic on the M1. I picked the wrong road. I left at 5pm and I got home at nine. That was a long, long day. You just want to go back home… I was covered in dust, there was so much dust [from the accident]. I just wanted to go home and have a shower."