Fernando Alonso's 2015 testing accident (lost footage of Formula One test session crash; 2015)
On 22nd February, 2015, Fernando Alonso was testing his McLaren MP4-30 during a Formula One preseason testing session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, when he suddenly veered off and crashed into a wall at Turn 3. Alonso had to be airlifted to a hospital, and suffered a concussion that forced him to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix that opened the 2015 Formula One Season. The crash was deemed unusual by followers of the sport, leading to several rumours and theories on what caused the accident. It is known that CCTV cameras and other sources captured footage of the incident.
Fernando Alonso had recently left Ferrari to join McLaren, having last raced for the team in 2007. McLaren had resumed its relationship with Honda that saw it achieve great success in the late-1980s to early-1990s, leading to speculation that the two-time world champion, as well as his new teammate and also a world champion Jenson Button, would recapture this success. As is common for Formula One, McLaren participated in testing sessions heading into the new season, including one on 22nd February at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Early signs of a troubled season emerged when McLaren experienced unreliability and posted uncompetitive times throughout testing.
During the final session, Alonso's McLaren was negotiating Turn 3 when it suddenly veered right and crashed into the wall. Sebastian Vettel, who was driving for Ferrari and was behind Alonso when the crash happened, felt the crash "looked strange", estimating that the McLaren's speed was only around 150kph (or just over 93mph), and that Alonso turned right into the wall. GPS measurements from other teams indicate that Alonso lost control at 135km/h, and crash at 105km/h. It was not significantly damaged from the impact, but required analysis of its gearbox and power unit systems, preventing Button from driving it that afternoon.
However, concern began to emerge when Alonso was seemingly unable to exit the cockpit. Medical crew rushed towards his stricken McLaren, where they performed first aid and airlifted him to hospital. According to McLaren, the crash was simply the result of unpredictable gusty winds, and claimed on 23rd February that Alonso was recovering well in hospital and his condition was normal. It also refuted that the McLaren had any mechanical failures. Overtime however, insiders of the sport noted that this testing accident was anything but normal, with Alonso not only being required to spend three nights in hospital, but also faced having to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, being replaced by Kevin Magnussen. It was later determined that Alonso had suffered from a concussion, as he suffered two blows to his head from the collision and that doctors were recommending he should limit his activity to avoid risking second impact syndrome. Alonso would return for the Malaysian Grand Prix, and competed in the rest of the season.
Rumours and Theories regarding the Crash
In the days and weeks following the crash, numerous rumours and theories emerged questioning the official narrative of the accident. These were fuelled when during an interview prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix, Alonso claimed that his car suffered from locked steering and refuted his team's wind explanation, responding that "Even a hurricane would not move the car at that speed." The lack of information being released following the accident, the fact the McLaren was not severely damaged from the impact yet was withdrawn from further testing, as well as McLaren's explanations being belated and also claimed as inaccurate, led to the crash being deemed a mystery and leading to speculation over what actually happened.
One theory circulated that because Honda, who had recently returned to the sport, had been experiencing troubles with its electronic energy-recovery systems that Alonso either ended up becoming unconscious or drowsy from inhaling toxic battery fumes, or was even victimised by an electric shock. Both McLaren and Alonso's manager Luis Garcia Abad denied these claims, and again blamed gusty wind, with some noting that Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz had also crashed at Turn 3 for which he blamed high, inconsistent wind.
Another theory suggests that Alonso was knocked out due to the unusual physical circumstances behind the crash. It is proposed that the car headed towards the wall at a sharp angle, before straightening out in the grass, meaning the car hit the wall with a large amount of momentum. The car supposedly hit at a flat, parallel angle to the wall. In a more traditional open wheel crash, the suspension and other parts of the car easily detach and deform, dissipating energy before it reaches the driver. The suspension on the cars can easily be twisted and snapped off, however it requires a lot more force to compress this suspension in a direct hit. It is theorized because of the flat angle of which the car impacted, the suspension held strong and the energy travelled through the suspension. In conclusion, this theory proposes that between the force from the impact angle, that lack of car deformation, and the concrete walls lack of deformation compared to that of a tire barrier, resulted in Alonso's body taking the brunt of the impact.
What was also unusual was that in McLaren's Day 4 test report, McLaren claimed Alonso was uninjured, yet later on in the same document, racing director Eric Boullier revealed Alonso was concussed. This also conflicted with team boss Ron Dennis' comments in a press conference that Alonso merely suffered from the symptoms of a concussion. Other theories then emerged claiming Alonso suffered from far worse than a concussion, with some like Ralf Bach of Sport Bild and TZ Munchen and El Pais reporting that Alonso was suffering from memory loss. Particularly, Bach claimed that Alonso's memory loss led him to believe he was still at Ferrari and ended up speaking Italian. Meanwhile, El Pais wrote that Alonso thought he was 13, telling doctors "I'm Fernando. I race karts and I want to be a Formula One driver", and that he needed a week to fully regain his memories. Alonso denied these rumours in the same interview prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix.
By May 2015, the mystery was still deemed unresolved by some insiders. Ultimately, without any footage from the crash, telemetry data, nor the findings from the FIA's investigation being publicly released, some like Sky Sports F1 concluding that the accident would never be fully explained.
A sequence of photos were taken of the accident and have been publicly released. In addition, there are two fan recordings consisting of footage of Alonso prior to the crash, McLaren covering up and transporting the car away, medical crew tending to Alonso, and the helicopter that airlifted him to the hospital. However, footage of the crash has never been made available in any form. It is known that the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya's CCTV cameras recorded footage of the incident, with the FIA securing it for its investigation. La Gazzetta dello Sport also noted the presence of on-board cameras on both Alonso and Vettel's cars, claiming that the footage captured by the Ferrari could resolve the mystery. Ultimately, neither the CCTV nor on-board footage has ever been publicly released.
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- Autosport reporting that Alonso would join McLaren for the 2015 Season. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- NBC Sports reporting on the speculation of success of Alonso and Honda joining McLaren. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Daily Mirror reporting on McLaren's testing troubles heading into the 2015 Season. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Planet F1 reporting on Vettel's comments about the crash. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Topgear-Autoguide reporting on the GPS measurements from other teams regarding the speed of Alonso's crash. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on the damage Alonso's car experienced, and that it was withdrawn following the accident because of required analysis of its gearbox and power unit systems. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Guardian reporting on Alonso being transferred to hospital following the crash. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- McLaren reporting on Alonso's condition, claiming he was recovering well and denying rumours of mechanical failures. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on Alonso withdrawing from the Australian Grand Prix to avoid risking second impact syndrome. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Independent reporting on Alonso returning for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Autosport reporting on Alonso refuting McLaren's explanation and claiming it was the result of locked steering. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- BBC Sport discussing the incident and claiming it was far from a normal testing accident. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Motorsport reporting on some of the rumours concerning the crash, including the inhaling toxic battery fumes and electric shock theories. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- McLaren's Day 4 report which contradicts itself on whether Alonso was injured or not. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Bleacher Report discussing McLaren's handling of the incident. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Motorsport reporting on some of the rumours concerning the crash, including that Alonso suffered memory loss. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Autosport providing a transcript of Alonso's interview, with him denying the rumours and McLaren's explanation. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Sky Sports F1 claiming in May 2015 that the incident may never be fully explained. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Sequence of photos of the crash. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- Autosport reporting that the FIA secured CCTV footage of the accident. Retrieved 4 Nov '21
- F1-Fansite reporting on how some sources believed the on-board footage could resolve the mystery. Retrieved 4 Nov '21