Romain Grosjean has given an extraordinary account of the 28 seconds he spent struggling to free himself from the burning wreck of his Haas Formula 1 car following his crash in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
He eventually freed himself after wrenching his left foot out of its boot, injuring himself as he did, and putting both hands into the fire to lift himself out of the car.
From the moment of his 53G impact with the barrier, Grosjean took 28 seconds to emerge from the burning car. He told media today it felt more like a minute and a half.
Grosjean said he didn’t immediately realise his car had caught fire after the crash. “When the car came to a stop I opened my eyes and undid my seat belt straight away,” he recalled.
“I jumped up and I felt like something is touching my head so I sit back down in the car. And my first thought was ‘I’m going to wait’.
“I’m upside-down against the wall so I’m going to wait that someone comes and helps me. So I wasn’t in stress and obviously not aware at the time there is fire.”
The front part of the Haas VF-20, including the survival cell which contained the driver, had lodged itself into the barrier. The rear half had broken away and fuel spilled onto the hot wreckage, which ignited, causing a massive blaze.
“I looked right and left, and on the left I see fire,” said Grosjean. “So I say ‘OK, I don’t really have the time to wait here’.”
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When Grosjean realised he was trapped in his burning car, he immediately thought of world champion Niki Lauda’s fiery crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix.
“I tried to go up a bit more on the right, it doesn’t work. I go again on the left, it doesn’t work. So I sit back down and then thought about Niki Lauda, his accident. I thought, it couldn’t end like this. It couldn’t be my last race, couldn’t finish like this. No way.
“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 asked the question ‘is it going to burn my shoe, my foot or my hand? Is it going to be painful? Where is it going to start? To me that looks like two, three four seconds. I guess it was milliseconds at the time. Then I think about my kids. And I said no, they cannot lose their dad today.”
Grosjean made another attempt to free himself, and discovered a way to force his way out of the cockpit to safety.
“I don’t know why I but I decided to turn my helmet on the left-hand side and to go up and try to 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 the left leg. The shoe stayed where my foot was, but my foot came out of the shoe. And then I do it again and then the shoulders are going through.”
As he emerged from the car, Grosjean realised he would have to put his hands into the flames to free himself.
“At the time the shoulders are through I know I’m going to jump out so I’ve got both hands in the fire at the time. My gloves are red, normally, so I see especially the left one changing colour and starting melting and going full black.
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“I feel the pain, that my hands are in the fire. But also I feel the relief that I am out of the car. And then I jump out, I go on the barrier.”
Once he was clear of the car Grosjean realised his suit was still on fire. “Then I feel pulling on my overalls. So I know I am not on my own any more, there’s someone with me.
“Then I land and then they like touch on my back so I’m like ‘oh, shit, I’m like a running fireball’. The image, we’ve seen a video from the FIA, they did a test, they put someone one fire and he runs around just to show the overalls were strong. I’ve got that image, I’ve got fire following me.
“Then I shake my hands because they’re very hot and pain[ful]. I remove my gloves straight away. I’ve got also that image that the skin is like going bubbles and melting and it’s going to stick to the gloves so straight away I want to remove both of my gloves so the skin doesn’t go with it.”
Doctor Ian Roberts from the Medical Car team was among the first on the scene to help Grosjean away from his burning car and begin treating his injuries.
“Ian came to see me and spoke to me and say ‘sit down!’ I gave him shit, I said ‘talk to me normally please!’ And I guess he understood that I was OK at that time, that I was normal.
“Then we sit and we’re too close to the fire, I hear the guys from the fire saying ‘the battery’s on fire, bring some other extinguishers’. And then we go into the Medical Car, sit down.
“They put a cold compress on my hand because I told them my hands are burnt, my foot is broken. And then the pain really starts going very high. Especially on the left foot – the hands were OK at the time, the left foot starts being very painful.”
Grosjean said he insisted on walking towards the ambulance so that people watching would know his condition was not serious.
“Ian explained to me the ambulance is coming and they’re going to come with the bed and you’re going to be OK. And we keep talking, and I say ‘no, no, no, we walk into the ambulance’. I walked out of the car and I say ‘we are walking’ and they say ‘OK we’re going to help you’.
“I guess on the medical side, it wasn’t a perfect decision, but they understood that for me, it was key at the point that there was some footage of me walking towards the ambulance. Even though I’d walk out of the fire, I needed to send another strong message that I was OK and I was going to walk towards the ambulance.”
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