Dubai: Fernando Alonso said he was "lucky to be alive" after Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, after surviving one of the most spectacular accidents the sport has seen for years. The Spaniard’s McLaren was completely destroyed in the 260kp/h crash, which saw his car barrel roll across the gravel after hitting the back of Esteban Gutierrez’s Haas, before flipping over and finally landing to rest against a concrete retaining wall, just metres from its end. The sport breathed an enormous sigh of a relief as Alonso crawled out, winded, but unharmed.
Albert Park’s Turn 3, known locally as Whiteford, is no stranger to hosting large-scale accidents. The first major accident happened on the first lap of the circuit’s first ever race in 1996.
It’s not unusual for a corner to be infamous for the wrong reasons, but it seems that most incidents at the turn – which happen every year – are the result of drivers attempting brave passes around the outside or from a long way back.
As is so often the case, a defending driver is on a constant bearing to the right, with their eyes focused solely on the upcoming apex. Due to the nature of the “straight” preceding the corner, there is often a lot of room on the left, which does offer a good passing opportunity for attacking drivers, especially as Turn 4 is a left-hander and thus a great place to take the position.
But, as proved on Sunday, sometimes it goes badly wrong.
Here’s a run-down of the four biggest accidents seen at the circuit’s infamous third turn.
Fernando Alonso, 2016
The mechanics of Sunday’s crash between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez are eerily identical to that of the crash between Jacques Villeneuve and Ralph Schumacher 15 years earlier. Alonso was chasing and moved to the outside in an attempt to pass the long way round, which would have set him on the inside of Turn 4.
He was blindsided momentarily by the Haas, losing sight of the braking point. His front right connected with the Mexican’s rear left. He took off into the wall before the roll-hoop dug into the gravel launching the car into a terrifying flight.
Martin Brundle, 1996
Jordan’s Martin Brundle was crowded out after hitting the back of Johnny Herbert’s Sauber. The Briton was thrown into the back of David Coultard and subsequently took off into the air.
The car came to rest and was barely recognisable, with the watching world fearing the worst – it hadn’t even been two years since the sport had lost Ayrton Senna in a far less dramatic accident. Miraculously, Brundle climbed out unscathed and returned to the pits to get in the spare car and take the restart.
Jacques Villeneuve, 2001
Five years after Brundle’s accident, BAR’s Jacques Villeneuve ran into the back of Williams’ Ralph Schumacher on the approach to Turn 3. The Canadian, trailing in the German’s turbulence, got a neat pull on the slipstream and attempted to overtake around the outside.
But Villeneuve misjudged Schumacher’s braking point and his front right connected with the rear left of the Williams. He was launched into a terrifying airborne vault, dragging through the catch fence before slumping in the gravel trap.
Tragically, a marshal was struck by flying debris and was killed. It remains one of the sport’s worst crashes.
David Coulthard and Alex Wurz, 2007
When compared to the airborne acrobatics of other crashes at the corner, the 2007 scrape between Red Bull’s David Coulthard and Williams’ Alex Wurz doesn’t seem like such a big event. But when you watch the on-board footage from Wurz’s car, you see just how close the Red Bull was to the Austrian’s head.
Coulthard made a late dive from a long way back. With Wurz already committed to the corner he didn’t have a chance, or even an inkling, that the Scot was on his way. The Red Bull rode up over the cockpit, missing Wurz’s helmet by centimetres, before stopping dead in the gravel.