Fernando Alonso's hospitalisation following his accident in pre-season testing has certainly occupied the headlines this week, though thankfully the Spaniard seems to be uninjured beyond a concussion, for which he is still under observation for.

With the latest from McLaren suggesting he will go on to fight another day sooner rather than later, attention has now firmly turned to why he crashed in the first place... and speculation has certainly been rife, even after McLaren's very blunt statement that Mother Nature was probably to blame.

Indeed, many people continue to speculate that perhaps there is more to the accident that was first apparent - did the Spaniard get a severe electric shock from the car, thus making him lose control? Were his injuries more serious than first claimed by the team? Did the suspension fail?

A dismissal of the rumours by McLaren has done nothing to dampen down the speculation and, in some ways, simply ramped it up further. So here I hope to take a look at the various conspiracy theories and what the reality of them could actually be.

Part of the reason for this slew of questions is partly down to the fact testing isn't 'televised', even to those at the track. We are reliant on CCTV feeds only, which are only placed sporadically around the circuit. In this case, there is no feed at turn three, which means the only witness to the accidents were those who saw it live. Even then there weren't many stationed there and photographers tell me few use that place for shots.

One person who did get a view - and inadvertently fuelled the speculation - was Sebastian Vettel who was following Alonso at the time and described what he saw: 'The speed was slow - maybe 150kph. Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange.'

Looking at the evidence after the fact, Alonso's accident was indeed a strange one on face value. His McLaren went out of control in turn three of the Circuit de Catalunya, and hit the retaining wall on the inside at high speed. Turn three is a fast uphill right handed curve, and an unusual place for the car to go off on the inside, though it has happened before (ask Pastor Maldonado).

But what caused it? Well the first port of call in this scenario would be a right rear suspension failure, which could easily cause the car to turn hard right. One image posted online appears to show the car with an upper wishbone failure before it hits the wall, but in reality this picture is either cropped or from a sequence of shots taken just after the car had made its first impact with the concrete. McLaren has also stated that initial investigations show that the car had suffered no mechanical failure before it hit the wall.

So if the suspension had failed why could Alonso not steer away from the wall? Some have suggested that he was somehow incapacitated, something which was seemingly backed up by comments apparently made by a photographer who witnessed the accident, saying 'his head was bent to one side before he hit the wall.'

This has led to speculation that something in the car's hybrid system had gone very badly wrong. Honda had been struggling with the cars electronics throughout the test and two different designs of seal on the MGU-K had apparently failed. The high voltage systems on current grand prix cars are extremely potent and could render a serious injury to a person in certain circumstances.

Some conspiracy theorists point to the fact that a carbon fibre chassis is probably quite a good conductor of electrical energy and that if the high voltage circuit from the MGU-K (which we know was having issues) to the battery which is located just behind the driver shorted against the monocoque it could give the driver an extremely serious shock.

But to get an electric shock while sat inside the car would be highly unlikely (though not impossible) because the car is sat on four perfect insulators, the tyres. A quick Google video search of 'Faraday cage car' will show you how good tyres are at insulating from very high voltages indeed.

Others have speculated that an overheating battery emitted toxic gasses that knocked Alonso out briefly. McLaren went out of its way to deny that there was any fault with the hybrid system, after rumours appeared in some publications;

"No electrical discharge or irregularity of any kind occurred in the car's ERS system, either before, during or after the incident," the team claim in a statement. "That last point refutes the erroneous rumours that have spread recently to the effect that Fernando was rendered unconscious by an electrical fault. That is simply not true. Our data clearly shows that he was downshifting while applying full brake pressure right up to the moment of the first impact - something that clearly would not have been possible had he been unconscious at the time."

Indeed when a battery failure has occurred in a car, and gas has been released, the driver has never suffered any ill effect. Kimi Raikkonen suffered just such a failure in 2009 during free practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Despite being exposed to the gasses in the cockpit he was able to drive back to the pits and jump out of the car (standard practice in a hybrid failure scenario), but he suffered no ill effect. The batteries in the 2009 Ferrari and the 2015 McLaren do not differ that greatly in terms of chemistry so it's unlikely that a mystery 'knock-out gas' could have overcome Alonso so suddenly.

After the accident it took some time for the Spaniard to be extricated from the car, and McLaren team members were on hand to assist when he was. Additionally all of the marshals involved were wearing their 'marigolds' - special gloves to insulate them from potential electric shocks. Again conspiracy theorists point to this as evidence of a hybrid system failure, but in fact this is just standard practice in crashes involving racing cars using hybrid systems. It was the same with Loic Duval's crash at Le Mans last year, and Anthony Davidson's a few years ago.

Alonso was said to have suffered a concussion in the crash but pictures and video of the aftermath of the incident seem to show little or no damage to the cockpit area. Something McLaren later confirmed 'after the initial impact, the car slid down the wall for about 15 seconds before coming to a halt. All four wheels remained attached to the car, but no damage was sustained by the bodywork or crash structure between the front and rear wheels.'

The car had hit at an almost side-on angle, striking the wall first with its front-right wheel and then with its right-rear. 'It was a significant lateral impact, resulting in damage to the front upright and axle' McLaren claims.

With no damage sustained to the driver safety area it may seem strange for a driver to suffer a concussion, though - ask the right people - and they will tell you that this is seemingly possible.

I am not a medically minded person so I have spoken to some people who are and they tell me that a high deceleration could cause a concussion even if the head did not make direct contact with anything other than the cockpit surround. In addition, though the skull is restrained by the cockpit soft wall and the helmet linked to the head and neck restraints, the brain can move inside the skull and that is what causes concussion in some cases like this' I was informed.

Alonso was said to be fully conscious following the crash even though he did not get out of the car. This, however, is justified by today's grand prix cars being fitted with a warning system which lights up if a car has an impact of over a certain G level. When that is activated after a crash, the driver is instructed not to get out of the car unassisted if he does not have to, and that's exactly what happened in Barcelona with Alonso.

"Alonso was taken from the scene of the incident to the circuit's medical centre, where he was given first aid and, as per normal procedures, was sedated in preparation for an air-lift to hospital," continues the team statement. "In hospital, a thorough and complete analysis of his condition was performed, involving CT scans and MRI scans, all of which were completely normal. In order to provide the privacy and tranquillity required to facilitate a peaceful recuperation, he is being kept in hospital for further observation, and to recover from the effects of the medication that successfully managed his routine sedation following the crash.'

With Alonso looking in doubt for the second of the two tests at Barcelona, and his picture tweeted from his hospital bed in a Spanish intensive care unit hooked up to an IV line it may seem like this was more than a mere concussion. Those more in the know medically than myself tell me that actually this is not unheard of and for a sportsman of Alonso's level, actually quite likely.

One example McLaren used to prove that Alonso was conscious and trying to control the car during the crash was that he was downshifting before he hit the wall. Experienced drivers like Martin Brundle have pointed out that this is actually a slightly odd thing at first glance as most drivers when they lose control do not downshift they just brake and steer.

However, Alonso is well acknowledged to be something of a special talent in a car, so he may have tried to decelerate the car not only via the brakes but also via engine braking, though this is certainly something of an anomaly. Additionally faced with a high speed impact with a solid object drivers sometimes do strange things, Jules Bianchi for example had 100 per cent brake and throttle demand at the same time as he headed towards the recovery vehicle at Suzuka, nobody knows why.

So perhaps there is no great conspiracy about electrics shocks, secret injuries or anything else. Perhaps things are just as they seem. But then what did cause Alonso to lose control of his McLaren?

After reviewing the data from the car and its accident data recorder (all F1 cars have aircraft style black boxes) McLaren has detailed what it believes caused the crash.

'The car ran wide at the entry to Turn Three - which is a fast uphill right-hander - allowing it to run onto the Astroturf that lines the outside of the track. A consequent loss of traction caused a degree of instability, spitting it back towards the inside of the circuit, where it regained traction and struck the wall side-on. Our findings indicate that the accident was caused by the unpredictably gusty winds at that part of the circuit at that time, and which had affected other drivers similarly (eg, Carlos Sainz Jnr)' the same team statement read.

Lots of people on social media have openly rejected this saying that it is a 'weather balloon' theory (in reference to the Roswell UFO conspiracy theory) and that wind simply cannot blow a car off the track, and to an extent they are right. The wind did not blow the car off the track, but then McLaren never claimed as much.

What happened is a gust of wind at just the wrong moment caused Alonso to make a small mistake on the way into turn three, where drivers typically run right up to the edge of the track anyway, so even a 30mm wider deviation from the normal line due to a strong gust of wind could indeed result in the rear wheel going onto the Astroturf and the car spearing off to the inside of the track. Exactly as McLaren says it did.

So Alonso's crash at Barcelona was the result of bad luck it seems, so why all the secrecy and denial? That's just McLaren's way.

Unfortunately for the team, it will no doubt face a barrage of questions from expectant media F1 testing resumes on Thursday. Perhaps only then will it perhaps put the theories to bed... or create a whole load of new ones.

Max Yamabiko

Max Yamabiko will bring you a closer look at the technical side of F1 and motorsport in 2015, from the latest developments and solutions employed to keep you ahead of the game

 

Comments

Loading Comments...