Fernando Alonso says he is fortunate to be alive after surviving one of the most spectacular crashes in recent Formula 1 memory.
While Nico Rosberg finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to win the opening race of an incident-packed Australian Grand Prix, the season-opener will long be remembered for Alonso’s terrifying 200 mph smash.
After he careered into the back of Esteban Gutierrez under braking for turn three, Alonso was merely a passenger as he slammed into the wall before barrel-rolling through the air twice. When his car finally came to a standstill, the Spaniard was upside down, missing all four tyres and much of his McLaren bodywork littered the circuit. The sport held its breath, but miraculously, the two-time champion crawled out of his car before limping away.
“I am lucky and thankful to be here,” said Alonso. “It was a scary moment and a scary crash.
“When I stopped I saw a little space to get out of the car and I went out just to make sure my mum, who was watching at home, could see that I was okay.”
Gutierrez, who ended up backwards in the gravel, went over to Alonso to shake his hand before both drivers were whisked off to the medical centre.
In testament to the sport’s remarkable safety standards both drivers were promptly given the all-clear.
The stewards investigated the crash, but found neither driver to be at fault.
“You are not exactly aware where you are,” Alonso, 34, said reflecting on the incident.
“You are just flying and then you see the sky, the ground, the sky, the ground and you don’t know. Then I didn’t know where I was because I was so far from the track. Everything happened slower than on the outside.
“You want to stop and it doesn’t stop, it keeps going and going – it was quite scary.”
The race was already building up to be a memorable one even before Alonso’s harrowing high-speed smash on lap 18.
Slow getaways by pole-sitter Hamilton and his team-mate Rosberg ensured they were gobbled up by the Ferrari pair of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap.
Indeed so poor was Hamilton’s start, which almost saw him and Rosberg run into one another, he dropped to sixth.
But a daring one-stop strategy by Mercedes enabled both Rosberg and Hamilton to recover with the former claiming his fourth victory in a row.
Vettel’s chances of winning were hampered by a slow second pit-stop and a late trip across the grass in his pursuit of Hamilton, while Raikkonen retired with an engine problem.
“We have 20 races from here, and there is a long way to go,” said Hamilton, who was seventh when the race restarted after Alonso’s crash. “Seven points behind? I am pretty happy with that. I had a race. I was behind people, and I had to race. That is what I live for.”
Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth for Red Bull with Felipe Massa next up for Williams. Romain Grosjean completed a fine debut for new American team Haas in sixth.
Briton’s Jolyon Palmer ended the race just outside the points in 11th after a relatively impressive debut, but it was an alarming afternoon for Jenson Button who crossed the line in 14th, last but one of all the classified runners.