Rally champion wonders what went wrong in F1 crash

Mohammed ben Sulayem is still trying to figure out what went wrong when he crashed a Formula One car in an exhibition race at Dubai's Autodrome.

Dubai – 10/10/2009 - Stunt Car racer Terry Grant performs at the Renault Road Show  Dubai Mall / The Address Hotel, Dubai. (Callaghan Walsh / For The National) *** Local Caption ***  F1_002.jpg
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DUBAI // Mohammed ben Sulayem is still trying to figure out what went wrong when he crashed into a barrier at 150kph driving a Formula One car in an exhibition race at Dubai's Autodrome on Thursday. "It all happened so quickly," the 14-time Middle East Rally champion told a press conference yesterday. "I wish I could explain what happened in just a second. It was the loss of the traction and then it was spinning and then it was over in a second. Things happened very fast and now I am here."

Ben Sulayem was unhurt in the crash, which caused extensive damage to the R28 Renault he was driving in a two-car race with Julian Piguet, a Renault back-up driver, who was in the rally ace's own Ford GT. The crash happened only a few seconds after the two cars had roared away from the starting line. Ben Sulayem's car - an identical model to the Renault R28 that won two Grand Prix races last year - spun into the right-hand barrier as the Ford, which was only a few feet behind him, swerved into the left lane to avoid a collision.

Ben Sulayem, who walked away from the crash, said he would not let it affect his enthusiasm for driving. "I have been driving for over 20 years now. If I was afraid of what could happen to me I would upset myself," he told reporters. Also at the press conference was Renualt's number two F1 driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, who said the incident was not a big deal by Grand Prix standards. "It happens and even this year, one of our younger drivers did the same thing," he said. "It happens with everyone, even on a straight. It is very difficult to drive an F1 car and it is expected to happen sometimes."

The crash resulted in substantial damage to the left side of the car, which is valued at between ?1.5 million (Dh7.32m) and ?2m. The rear left tyre was shorn off and a spectator who was only a few feet away when it crashed said it looked like "a complete wreckage". After the accident, Renault F1 officials said the car had struggled to adapt to the road surface at the Autodrome - an F1 certified circuit - after being driven at high speed on a desert road earlier in the day.

Racing enthusiasts still were treated to the spectacle of a Grand Prix car in action last night at the Renault Roadshow at Downtown Burj Dubai when Piquet demonstrated handbrake turns, donuts, wheelspins and powerslides in another R28. Mr Piquet accelerated at high speed along a platform about 500 metres long, skidded around and came to a stop before wheelspinning back in the opposite direction and moving on to other stunts.

"It was brilliant to see an F1 car in action," said one racing fan, Mohammed Shalby. "I've always wanted to see a Grand Prix and now I am going to buy an F1 ticket for Abu Dhabi. The sound of the car is incredible, it has such a distinct sound and watching it on television does not do it any justice. Imagine 20 cars on the starting grid and what it would sound like." Two other Renault racing cars were put through their paces by the carmaker's F1 number three driver, Romain Grosjean, and Adam Khan, the team's demonstration driver.

eharnan@thenational.ae