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What is a '51G crash'? Meaning of Max Verstappen’s impact explained

Bruno Cooke July 19, 2021
51g crash meaning
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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Max Verstappen’s crash made headline news over the weekend – with repercussions for rival driver Lewis Hamilton – but what, really, is the meaning of a “51G crash”, or of a 51G impact?

What happened to Max Verstappen?

During the opening lap of the British Grand Prix over the weekend, Dutch driver Max Verstappen, 23, suffered what his team boss Christian Horner called a “51G impact”.

Eloquently put by Boss Hunting writer John McMahon earlier today, it’s not the speed that kills you – “inertia is the true killer”. 

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Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Fortunately, Verstappen went into hospital only for “precautionary tests”. Lewis Hamilton received a 10-second penalty for potentially precipitating the incident. However, fortunately for him, it wasn’t enough to keep him from taking first place.

So, what’s the meaning of a 51G crash?

Astronauts in space experience 0G, or zero-gravity, because they are beyond Earth’s gravitational pull.

Down here, we experience 1G. That’s the normal amount of force the Earth’s gravitational field applies on a body at sea level.

It’s not something we think about all that often, but the Earth’s gravity is pulling us towards its centre at a speed of about 9.8 metres per second per second. That’s why, when you jump up, you come back down. If you fall for one second, by the time you land you’re travelling at 9.8 metres per second. That’s just under 22mph.

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Horizontal g-force (no, not that G-Force), otherwise known as the gravitational force equivalent, is a measure of horizontal acceleration. 

It feels like gravity, except sideways. It is something Formula One drivers have to contend with every time they go into a bend.

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How many Gs is 51G, and what is a deadly amount of Gs?

Formula One drivers apparently experience 2G while accelerating. That means it feels like twice their bodyweight is being pressed into the seat behind them.

When they brake, they experience 5G; cornering exerts between 4 and 6Gs.

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Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

According to Science Focus, sustained g-forces of anything from 6G could be fatal to a human body. Fortunately for them, racing car drivers experience higher levels of horizontal g-force only for short periods. Likewise, fighter pilots, who are trained to manage up to 9G, do so only for a second or two.

In short, then, crashing with an impact force of 51G meant that Verstappen experienced – if only for a fraction of a second – the equivalent to 51 times Earth’s gravitational pull. That he’s already out of hospital is impressive.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.