Romain Grosjean made peace with belief he would die in Bahrain crash

Giles Richards
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP</span>
Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP

Romain Grosjean has delivered a powerful and moving account of his accident at the Bahrain Grand Prix, admitting that in the heat of the inferno that engulfed him he had made peace with the belief that he was going to die. The French driver had a remarkable escape last Sunday and revealed that thoughts of his children inspired him to make the final effort to climb out of the car.

Grosjean’s accident at Bahrain was horrific. His Haas car crashed at 137mph, with an impact force of 53G. It split in two and speared through the metal barriers. The halo cockpit protection device had been decisive in keeping him alive but he was swiftly engulfed in a huge fireball. Incredibly, he ultimately escaped with only burns to his hands.

Related: George Russell has big boots to fill as he enjoys 'surreal' Mercedes chance

On Friday, Grosjean related how time appeared to slow down for him as the events, which lasted 28 ses, unfolded. He had undone his seatbelt, and attempted to extricate himself from the wreckage but could not do so.

“I sat back down and then thought about Niki Lauda, his accident, thought it couldn’t end like this, it couldn’t be my last race, couldn’t finish like this. No way,” he said.

“I tried again and I’m stuck. So I go back and then there is the less pleasant moment where my body starts to relax. I am at peace with myself and I am going to die. I ask the question: ‘Is it going to burn my shoes or my hand? Is it going to be painful? Where is it going to start?’. To me, that felt like two, three, four seconds. I guess it was milliseconds at the time. Then I think about my kids and they cannot lose their dad today.”

The 34-year-old tried again and finally able to raise himself, had to push up and out of the twisted metal, a feat of extraordinary endurance.

“I had both hands in the fire at that time,” he said. “My gloves are red normally so I see, especially the left one, was changing colour and starting melting and going full black and I could feel the pain, that my hands are in the fire.”

As Grosjean climbed from the car he was helped by the occupants of the medical car, Dr Ian Roberts and the driver Alan van der Merwe, as well as marshals. Taken to hospital he was examined and discharged on Wednesday. On Thursday he returned to the paddock in Bahrain which is hosting the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend and where he made a point of meeting and thanking all the marshals, medical staff and personnel who had helped.

Grosjean’s escape was one of the most remarkable in modern F1 history. He said had he witnessed it, “I would have been sure that the driver was dead”. What was notable is how rational the Frenchman remained during the experience, made clear when Roberts helped him away from the flames.

“Ian comes to see me and he says ‘Sit down!’. I gave him shit. I said: ‘Talk to me normally please,’.” Then as the ambulance came to collect him Grosjean insisted he would walk to it to make the point he was in good shape.

“It was key at that point that there was some footage of me walking towards the ambulance and that even though I’d walked out of the fire, I needed to send another strong message,” he added.

Grosjean also emotionally acknowledged that it was the impact the incident had on his loved ones that had hurt him the most.

“What is the hardest is not what I went through but what I put people through: my family, my parents, my wife and kids, my friends,” he said. “For two minutes 43 seconds they thought their friend, their father and husband was dead and that is what makes me cry, that I made people suffer to that extent.”

George Russell made a stunning opening to his first drive in a competitive Formula One car, going quickest in first practice for the Sakhir Grand Prix. The British driver is standing in for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain driving a Mercedes for the first time. He has stepped up with remarkable alacrity, beating his vastly more experienced teammate Valtteri Bottas at the first attempt.

Hamilton was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Monday and Russell, who has raced for Williams for two seasons and is a Mercedes junior driver, was only called on Tuesday night to replace him. The Williams is among the slowest cars on the grid and a handful to drive. Mercedes, in contrast, have the season’s quickest and utterly dominant ride and the 22-year-old had almost no preparation time to learn the car or embed with the team.

His adaption to he new machinery has been remarkable however, immediately making a compelling case for a potential promotion to Mercedes in 2022. The race this weekend is on an alternate layout to the one used at the Bahrain GP last week – the outer loop configuration of the Sakhir circuit that no one has driven before but Russell had its measure in short order.

He finished the opening session 0. 176secs up on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while Bottas managed only fourth, three tenths back and appearing to be pushing too hard and struggling with the setup on his car. Russell proved nerveless given the opportunity to shine, replicating the repeated excellent performances over the past two years that have seen him wrest more than was deserved from the Williams and ensured he has never been out-qualified by a teammate since his debut in 2019.

This is the Frenchman’s tenth season in F1 since his debut in 2009 but he is not being retained by Haas for next year and this is very likely to be his last in F1. His injuries mean he cannot race this weekend but he is hopeful of bidding farewell at the final round in Abu Dhabi. He was clear, however, that he would not take any risk to the recovery of his hands to do so. A comeback would be wonderful he admitted but he had already made a plan to at least ensure he could take to the wheel of an F1 car one more time.

“The story would be beautiful but if I don’t [make Abu Dhabi] I will call every F1 team and see if they will give me a private test in January and have 10-15 laps in the car just for me,” he said.