The physics of Webber’s Valencia crash

Have a look at the current issue of Red Bulletin for an interesting perspective on Mark Webber’s terrifying crash with Heikki Kovalainen in Valencia.

Professor Thomas Schrefl does the maths on Webber’s aerial flip and comes up with some fascinating figures:

Doing the maths we see that the potential energy and the rotational energy take up about one to two per cent of the kinetic energy. After hitting the ground, Webber?s car slides towards the tyre barrier. Sliding means friction. The frictional force is FR = ??mg, whereby ?? is the friction coefficient between the car and the ground. The work, FRs, done by the frictional force is calculated simply: force times distance to the barrier. Friction reduces the kinetic energy by roughly 10 per cent.

From the reduced kinetic energy we find the velocity at which Webber hits the barrier to be around 280kph (174mph, 4, 5).
Professor Thomas Schrefl

He reached a height of two metres during his brief flight seen in the video below:

Find the full article in the current issue of Red Bulletin.

Read more: Webber hits Kovalainen and flips

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83 comments on The physics of Webber’s Valencia crash

  1. Stretch said on 5th August 2010, 11:16

    Wasn’t there a bridge near the incident? If he hit that, he would be gone.

    • Kate said on 5th August 2010, 12:02

      At the beginning of the “straight” (in inverted commas because its not really straight!) there was a thin bridge with a DHL sign hanging off it, I believe.

  2. Just reversed the video. The impact speed was at about 115 Kph ±3%

    I guess all aero considerations on the other comments are right.

    • BasCB said on 5th August 2010, 17:32

      Wow, that’s pretty accurate!

    • kokamomi (@kokamomi) said on 6th August 2010, 9:45

      Yes, I was also more thinking something like a 100 kph from just watching the footage. Really nothing considering broad siding a tyre wall and conveyor belt should be relatively gentle at these speeds. If you could make out from the footage how many frames passes from wall contact to full stop (the recoil looks omittable) we’d be able to calculate the average G-force. Too bad (again) we don’t get HD, with twice the frame rate.

  3. Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 5th August 2010, 12:38

    well in the end it was a big wreck D:

  4. qwerty_uk said on 5th August 2010, 13:21

    So tarmac doesn’t slow cars down enough and allows for no punishment for drivers going wide. But gravel increases the risk of a car digging-in and starting to spin.

    What we need here is some huge water tanks. That would help slow the cars down, and the splash would be spectacular!

    Drivers would have to wear scuba equipment at all times so they can still breathe when the car sinks to the bottom.

    This is not a serious suggestion, by the way.

  5. LeRoy said on 5th August 2010, 13:28


    It’s quite difficult to measure any of this without knowing the actual specs.. how much did the car weigh after each collision? how fast was he going in the first place? how abrasive is the surface? who cares!? it was quite the flight and he’s all good!

  6. Jameson said on 5th August 2010, 15:56

    There’s a snippet in the new F1 Racing magazine that says Webber’s car was about 740 kilos, hit the barrier at about 80 mph, and reached a height of 5 meters.

  7. DaveW said on 5th August 2010, 17:22

    First, there is no way it was going 174. I didn’t exactly rock Physics in college but a very light car going 200 is going to lose more than 30 mph after flipping through the air, first with the undertray forward, and then skidding on the ground for a couple seconds. He would have lost more than 30 mph in that total distance if he had just let off the gas, given the massive drag of an F1 car and drag at that high speed. I don’t buy it.

    When you see how close Webber came to being nailed by his tire, as well as a fusilade of substantial debris raining in behind him as he hit the wall like a round of grape shot, you see how lucky he was.,

  8. The tarmac/gravel run-off debate is lasting from many years. Basically FIA wants an all-tarmac everywhere. FIM doesn’t. FIA’s thinking is that in the most cases tarmac let cars not to roll (and recover from mistakes) and decrease braking space (supposing that all brakes, suspension, tyres and aero are functioning). So where FIA could they deploy all tarmac arrestor bed.

    The problem occurs when there is a total loss of control. In any case where a mechanical failure occurs (remember the Gachnang’s Abu Dhabi crash) tarmac run-off are simply pointless.

    The Holy Graal is to balance the dimension of tarmac and gravel. There is no an always good solution. Depending on how’s the corner, what’s the purpose is, what you have to arrest (vehicle or rider), you need to assess risks and design the run-off to suit at best your provisional needs.

    But very few racetracks now are designed like I said.

    That’s why we see so many tarmac around.

  9. mateuss said on 5th August 2010, 18:54

    Does anybody know where to find the RB6 dimensions, its chassis length in particular?

    • How accurate do you need the numbers to be? All F1 cars are very similar in size due to the regulations. This year they are a little longer than other years (I think) but here’s a good reference:

      “As a typical example, the 2007 season Toyota TF107 is 453cm long, 180cm wide and 95cm high.”

      • mateuss said on 5th August 2010, 21:40

        Okay, so here is my math:
        First I completely abandoned any idea of trying to calculate his speeds from the impact point because it is so complex, all the different forces, and so on, it is impossible for anybody to do it.

        So I took the only real time footage we got from the crash, and studding it hard I worked out that it takes three and a half frames for him to cover an RB6 car’s length right before the moment of impact, I of course also had to take into account that his front wing was missing, and that he was going in a slight angle.

        As Jarno below provided that a healthy bull’s length is 5 meters, and the video was playing 25 f/s. So the calculation is v=5*25/3.5=35.7 m/s, that is 129km/h and 80 mp/h.

        As you can see the figures are quite far from those in the article above. But I believe that this figure are much closer to the actual one. In the above article pretty much all of the figures in the equation is an assumption, not to mention that the equation itself is not complete. This equation hove ever is very simple, only the accuracy of my observation is a variable, but even then the margin of error isn’t as big.

        But if you ask me, I still wouldn’t want to hit a barrier at 80 mp/h, especially with my feet just a few centimeters from the impact itself as there were no front nose at that point.

  10. W-K (@w-k) said on 6th August 2010, 4:12

    I think I understand why the FIA prefers concrete, see Alex Wurz’s flips in the 1998 Canadian GP in Ned’s First lap crashes thread. (Thanks Ned) But couldn’t they make the concrete run off areas so it is difficult to regain the track.

  11. David Sherwood said on 6th August 2010, 8:29

    OK, so tarmac stays for safety reasons, so how about one of the following, if a car runs off during a race, purely for driver error:

    1) An automatic X seconds added to race time

    2 Marshall holds car back for X seconds

    3)Drive through for using run off

    4) Any other ideas!

  12. graigchq said on 6th August 2010, 11:03

    we just need the tarmac to be bordered with grass, like at hockenheim turn 1. The penalty for running wide, is a quick foray onto a (very) narrow pice of grass, which upsets the balance, and although the driver and car can recover unhurt and undamaged, the resultant loss of speed and therefore time is great enough for it never to be the fastest way round the corner. Once over the grass (it’s only about 3 foot wide on that turn in hockenheim) you’re back onto tarmac again and can speed back up. I’d say this loses the drivers at least a second or two, and therefore is never going to yield an advantage – whilst being safer than gravel traps as well.

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