'I start to relax... I'm going to die. Then I think about my kids' — Romain Grosjean's survival story

F1

Romain Grosjean explains how he struggled to escape from the blazing wreckage of his Haas at the Bahrain Grand Prix, and had resigned himself to dying before making a final attempt to escape. Plus - his determination to end his F1 career on a different note

Romain Grosjean returns to the Bahrain circuit with bandages on his hands

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Romain Grosjean admits there was a point after his horrific crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix when he accepted he was going to die trapped in his car, before thoughts of his children caused him to fight to get out.

The terrifying incident saw Grosjean’s Haas pierce the armco after contact with Daniil Kvyat, with the car breaking in half and bursting into flames. Recounting the whole ordeal in incredible detail on a video call with media on Friday morning, the Frenchman – who also proved he can still raise his middle finger to journalists – says there was a time he thought he wasn’t going to be able to escape.

“Happy to see you, surprised to say that to media, but yes happy to see you!” Grosjean laughed. “If I live through, and take you through those 28 seconds. For me it wasn’t quite 28 seconds, it felt more like a minute 30, if I had to put a time on it.

Blazing wreckage of Romain Grosjean's car at the Bahrain circuit in 2020

‘It felt like I was in there for 90 seconds’, said Grosjean

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

“When the car came to a stop I opened my eyes and unclicked my seatbelt straight away. The thing I didn’t remember the next day is what I did with the steering wheel as I didn’t have the memory of taking it off and they said no the steering wheel’s gone in between your legs, the column and everything broke and went down. So I didn’t have to bother with the steering wheel.

“So I jumped out and I feel like something is touching my head, so sit back down in the car, my first thought is I’m going to wait, I’m upside down against the wall so I’ll wait that someone else comes and helps me so I wasn’t stressed and not aware there was fire.

“Then I looked right and left and saw on the left there is fire so ‘OK I don’t really have the time to wait here’. The next time I try to go up a bit more on the right, it doesn’t work. I go on the left, doesn’t work. I sat back down and thought about Niki Lauda, his accident, thought it couldn’t end like this, it couldn’t be my last race, it couldn’t finish like this, no way.

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“So I try again and I’m stuck, so I go back and then there’s the less pleasant moment where my body start to relax, I’m in peace with myself and I’m going to die. I ask my question is it going to burn my shoe or my foot or my hand? Is it going to be painful, where’s it going to start? And I mean to me that looks like 2-3-4 seconds, but I guess it was milliseconds at the time.

“Then I think about my kids, and I say ‘no they cannot lose their Dad today’. So I don’t know why I did what I did but I decided to turn my helmet on the left hand side and to go up like this and try and twist my shoulder. That sort of works, but then I realise my foot is stuck in the car. So I sit back down, pull as hard as I can on my left leg, the shoe stayed where my foot was but my foot come out of the shoe.

“Then I do it again and the shoulders are going through and the time the shoulder was through I know I’m going to jump out, so I’ve got both hands on the fire that time, I see my gloves are red normally so I see especially the left one changing colour and starting melting and going full black, I feel the pain my hands are in the fire but also I feel the relief that I am out of the car.

“Then I jump out, go on the barrier, feel Ian [Dr Roberts] pulling on my overall so I know I am not on my own anymore and there is someone with me, I land and they touch on my back so I’m like ‘oh shit I am a running fireball’.

Romain Grosjean escapes the fire of his Haas wreckages at the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean emerges from the fireball of his wrecked Haas

Peter Fox/Getty Images

“Then I shook my hands as they’re very hot and painful, removed the gloves straight away as I’ve got the image that the skin is like doing bubbles and melting and is going to stick to the gloves so straight away I want to remove the gloves… the skin doesn’t go with it and then Ian comes to see me and speaks to me and says ‘SIT DOWN!’ and I gave him shit! I said ‘talk to me normally please’. I guess he understood I was OK at that time, I was normal.

“Then we sit and we are too close to the fire, I hear the guys with the extinguisher say ‘the battery is on fire, bring some other extinguisher’, so we go into the medical car, sit down, they put some cold compress on my hand as I told them my hands are burning and my foot is broken, then the pain really starts going very high, especially on the left foot, the hands were OK at the time but the left foot starts being very painful.

“Ian explains the ambulance is coming, they’re going to come with the bed and you’re going to be OK and we keep talking all the time. I said ‘No no we walk to the ambulance’, they said ‘No no the bed is coming’, I said ‘No no no, I walk out of the car, and say we are walking!’, ‘Okay we’ll help you’.

Romain Grosjean is lead away from the burnt wreckage of his car after crashing at the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Walking to the ambulance sent out the message he was ok, says Grosjean

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

“I guess on the medical side it wasn’t a perfect decision but they understood for me it was key there was footage of me walking towards the ambulance, so even though I walked out of the fire I needed to send another strong message that I was OK and I was going to walk towards the ambulance.

“Then every time I met anyone I said ‘Two burnt hands one broken foot!’. That’s all I could say to everyone I was meeting, just because I was scared obviously of my conditions and I wanted everyone who was coming and treating me to know what my symptoms were.

“So I guess that is the full story of 28 seconds and then the rest, as you can imagine it looked longer than 28 seconds with all the thoughts I had, it must have been milliseconds but all the thoughts looked to me like 1-2-3 seconds.”

Romain Grosjean with Dr Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe

Romain Grosjean reunited with Dr Ian Roberts and medical car driver Alan van der Merwe

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

After such a harrowing experience, it would be completely understandable for Grosjean to walk away from the sport completely, but he is still targeting a return next weekend in Abu Dhabi. The Frenchman doesn’t want his F1 career to have finished in the Bahrain barrier, but given the extent of his burns will only race in 2020 if the risks of long-term damage are not too great.

“The body is recovering as quick as it can. Burns are not an exact science, I’m quite good with knowing about burning nowadays, I learned a lot, I went through some tough times when they started cutting the blister with the scissors and start peeling off the skin. You see things that you don’t really want to see.

“I’m hopeful every day it recovers better than it does the previous day. but when will I have a final answer I don’t know yet. Obviously I’ve got 60 years or so to go with my left hand so one race is important to me but it’s not as important as living a normal life for the rest of my life. We will see. I cannot tell you yet.

“It’s a target and it helps me to keep positive and moving. The first step yesterday was to go to the track and one of the first things I did was to go to the car and I looked over the halo in the cockpit just to see if there were any strange feelings, panic, scary moments, etc. It was fine, so already that’s kind of a positive step.

Romain Grosjean and his wife return to the Haas garage

Grosjean’s wife, Marion, embraces his race engineer, Ayao Komastsu

Peter Fox/Getty Images

“On Sunday night the first video call I did with my kids, my wife, my Dad was there, I said I will race in Abu Dhabi and you can imagine their reaction! They weren’t very impressed with me, and I won’t blame them, I will always understand they don’t accept but I say it is very selfish, it’s what I need, and what I want to do.

“If it doesn’t happen, well I’m alive, I’ll have plenty of other opportunities in the future, I’ll have a super licence in 2021 and we have seen no one is safe from Covid-19 so we’ll see.”