'My husband is somewhere in this blaze': Marion & Romain Grosjean tell full Bahrain fireball story

F1

The story of Romain Grosjean's survival in the Bahrain GP fireball is told from both his and his wife's perspective in an emotive new biography: Facing Death

Fireball of Romain Grosjean Haas at 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

As Romain Grosjean pulled on his fireproof balaclava and crash helmet ahead of last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, 3,000 miles away in Switzerland, his wife Marion, their three children and Romain’s father were settling down in their home cinema.

It was expected to be one of Romain’s final F1 races and the family were hoping that he might sneak another point or two before his grand prix career ended.

But instead of cheering on their Papa, they watched horrified as his Haas crashed and exploded into flames on the first lap before the cameras panned away. They — like the rest of the world — were left waiting for news on the fate of the man at the centre of that fireball.

Now, in a new book, La mort en face (Facing death), published in France by City Editions, Marion and Romain describe in detail being plunged into the life-or-death scenario. From one perspective, the agonising moments of not knowing, and preparing her children for the worst. From the other, the 28 seconds that Romain spent fighting for survival amid the flames.

The full, emotive story is told in chapter 13 which includes the extract below, reproduced with permission and translated by Motor Sport.

Marion

I hear [French commentator] Julien Fébreau describe a Haas that has gone off at the back of the pack, just as we see a frightening explosion. At the same time, Kevin Magnussen’s Haas appears on the big screen of our cinema room.

My brain pieces it together instantly. Romain is somewhere in this blaze. I don’t know how he got there, or how he’s doing, but it’s clear that my husband has been involved in one of the most horrifying crashes this decade. The certainty of that feels like a punch to the heart.

Medical car arrives as Romain Grosjean's Haas is in flames

The medical car arrives to the scene of the crash

Bryn Lennon/AFP via Getty Images

Romain

I haven’t been knocked out. I open my eyes and release my straps. How many times have I done this throughout my career? Like a robot, without thinking about it? Every instinctive move I make quickly will count and help save my life but I don’t know it yet.

There’s no need to remove the steering wheel: it has been ripped off. I try to get out of the car but realise I’m stuck. I think that it’s the Halo, or maybe my Hans neck device that’s blocking the way and I sit back down, not panicking. I tell myself that help is on its way, that it’s not serious. I’m still not aware of the fire.

 

Marion

Everyone holds their breath in anticipation of reassuring news. But it doesn’t come. Where is Romain? Is he conscious?

The seconds keep ticking by and there’s no replay. No explanation, just the sight of the red flags waving around the circuit.

We don’t have the slightest glimpse of the car, even from the helicopter which will certainly be above the scene. I’ve seen enough circuits to know what the guidelines are after a serious crash. No footage will be shown until there is a guarantee that everyone is safe.

“My little ones could not witness whatever might be about to happen”

These damn seconds tick by. One by one, in slow motion.

At first Sacha shouted but he didn’t realise the car that had shattered and burst into flames had his daddy inside.

We jumped out of our seats. The adults through shock and the children following their lead. In that cinema room, in the basement of our house, was a feeling that something serious had just happened. Something irreversible that would change our lives forever.

That was my first thought. Then, came the unmistakable sense of an emergency, that I must keep my children away from. Quickly — Sacha, Simon, Camille. My little ones… their father, whose life is in danger, the hero of their daily lives!

They could not witness whatever might be about to happen, that was out of the question. They don’t put up a fight; there is chocolate cake in the kitchen. ‘Come on, it’s snack time!’ I push them, staggering, out of the room. There’s an urgency that I feel deep inside. An urgency to evacuate my children, an urgency to know what is happening so far away from us, an urgency to see my husband’s face, safe and sound.

For heaven’s sake, where is he? What is going on there while we watch that useless giant screen?

 

Romain

I glance to the left and see that my surroundings are orange. That’s strange. At the same time, I realise that the plastic tear-off on my visor is burning.

I look for the button of the on-board fire extinguisher: in vain. My vision’s blurry, I can’t find it. I have to get out of there. Fast.

I try to get up again but cannot. I’m trapped and this knocks me more than the violence of the crash. Shit.

I’m starting to realise that this is serious. With no visibility, cut off from the world, I have time to imagine that I’ll end up like Niki Lauda: ​​trapped, burned alive in my car.

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I have to convince myself that this can’t happen to me. That my life cannot end there, like that, without having time to prepare. It’s impossible. And yet, I don’t have much hope of escaping on my own.

I see it coming. Death. It approaches slowly but I can already smell it coming, surrounding me.

My body almost accepts it and relaxes. It’s over. I’m not afraid, but I’m overwhelmed by questions: Which part of me is going to burn first? How long will I be in agony? Will it hurt to die?

But … I think of my children, at home. Sacha, Simon, Camille. I can almost imagine them in front of me, all three of them. So small. Funny. Companions. Will they grow up without a daddy? Am I going to abandon them? I refuse. They need me. My children. They need me. I must fight for them. My children. I cannot leave them. I’m not allowed to let go.

 

Marion

I close the door to the cinema room. I want to make sure that nobody will hear anything of what is going on. I don’t know how I’m going to react to the information that will reach us, so we must keep the children away from this dark room in which we fear the worst.

Time is our enemy. The more it passes, the less our chance of seeing Romain come out unscathed. For pity’s sake, let time stop, let the earth stop turning, let nothing move until we know.

Not knowing is the worst part. But no, they keep going, those f**king seconds.

The front part of Romain Grosjean's wrecked Haas on fire and embedded in the barrier

Wedged in the barrier, the wrecked Haas trapped Grosjean — seen here after his escape

DPPI

Romain

I am stuck in the flames, and I am the only one who can save myself. It’s not a question of courage, it’s a question of life or death.

No one will come to my aid. I am going to make another attempt to escape, by rotating my body but my left foot is stuck under the brake: I will have to sit back in the blaze to free my leg. It is a difficult decision to make. To dive back into the coffin intended for me.

 

Marion

We need some news – Kim… Kim Keedle. Romain’s physiotherapist. I send him two words by WhatsApp and I’ll be able to see as soon as he reads it. As long as he hasn’t read the message, it means that he has no information. If he reads and does not answer, it follows that it’s a bad sign — that he doesn’t know how to tell us that… But no. He didn’t read it. So we don’t know. We do not know.

 

Romain

I have to fight. I have to try, until the end. I pull with all my might, like crazy, ready to rip my leg off from the rest of my body if necessary. I leave my shoe there, swallowed up by the blaze that my cockpit has become, but my foot is free.

But it’s far from over. To pull myself up, I have to help myself with both hands, and plunge them into the flames that surround me. Instantly, my red gloves turn black. I feel the pain. I know I’m burning alive.

But… as I push myself out, it’s deliverance. I will live. I will live for my children. I will see them grow up. I’ll be able to hug them. Kiss them. Smother them with love.

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

Pale-faced but alive, Grosjean walks from the fire

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

Marion

I wait, phone in hand and I see Romain on the screen, his face pale. I tell myself that this is a picture taken before the explosion because the director didn’t know what else to show. But no. it’s live… he’s alive. I scream. He’s alive! I open the door to the cinema room and run up the stairs, shouting loudly, for my children as much as for me: ‘Papa is fine! Papa is fine! Everything is fine! Papa is well!

My phone rings “Hello? Marion, it’s Jean Todt [president of racing’s governing body, the FIA]. I’m with Romain, he is fine.”

I breathe a sigh of relief into the receiver. I probably gasp. And that’s when I suddenly hear, in the distance, behind Jean: “Mosquito! I’m fine!” The voice is clear. Almost joyful. My God, those words will echo for the rest of my life. It’s the voice of my husband. The voice that I thought I may never hear again. “Mosquito.” That ridiculous nickname he has given me for so many years. He knows that by hearing it, I will understand. I will understand that he will survive what has just happened, and that we will have the rest of our lives to heal together. I laugh and cry at the same time.

 

Romain

Now in hospital, Romain is visited by Jean Todt

Jean said to me mischievously: “So? Do you like the halo? Only fools don’t change their mind!”  The halo. The president of the FIA knows that I was one of its fiercest detractors. Implemented after the death of Jules [Bianchi, following a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix]. Of course, I’ll become one of its greatest supporters. The halo saved my life, as did Jules, by extension. Without his accident, this safety device would never have been installed. Without his accident, I would have been dead. Decapitated.

My priority is to see my children and my wife. My God, the video call does me the world of good. They are all there in the dining room. Marion, Sacha, Simon, Camille. I even see my father behind them! Marion and I look at each other, her eyes are damp. I know her by heart. She’s trying to hold on for our little ones. My eyes fog up a bit too. We have so much to say to each other, to still live together…


La Mort en Face book coverLa Mort en Face

Romain & Marion Grosjean

City Editions, €18.50
(French version)
English version expected to be available from November 24

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