Romain Grosjean crash, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

‘I put both my hands in the fire’: Grosjean describes his 28 seconds trapped in an inferno

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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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.

Grosjean said he thought he was going to die after trying several times to free himself from the burning wreckage but discovered he was trapped.

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.

Marshals rushes to the scene of Grosjean’s crash
“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.”

Grosjean was eventually persuaded to get on a stretcher
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.

Grosjean’s car punched a hole in the guardrail
“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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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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43 comments on “‘I put both my hands in the fire’: Grosjean describes his 28 seconds trapped in an inferno”

  1. Incredible stuff. Sound to me like the car was rested on it’s right side with the barrier over him, the flames licking the rear and left side of car with him being low enough for the initial flames to not be on him. It sounds like the burns came from him having to exit via the fire. I hope he has started councilling for this to try and address any ptsd to come.

    1. Apparently. Any thing he would attempt to hold for leverage would already be on fire, be it the Halo or the sides of the cock pit. The orientation of the cockpit would ensure his helmet and hands were already receiving lots of heat.

  2. An astonishing read, I read the entire thing with my mouth open and eyes wide. It’s been almost a week and I still can’t believe that he managed to get out of that.

    1. Yes, I just realised I did the same thing!

    2. Same here. Wish him the best in his recovery. What a terrifying experience.

      1. agreed, i cant find words, uhm,,stupefying ?

  3. We witnessed your struggle but most people are still yet to realise the effort you made to get out of that car.
    The most fearful moment of such incidents is when a person calmly accepts what is about to be their fate.
    That decision to say No I Will Fight, is what makes heros and survivors.

  4. I’m no fan of Grosjean and the crash was completely his own fault. I feel he has been in F1 at least 2 seasons too long. I have never really felt he quite made the cut to be an F1 driver.

    That said, he’s a really pleasant gentleman outside of the cockpit. A really positive person who always smiles.

    The crash was sickening and I was in tears whilst waiting to find out if he was ok. I was in more tears watching replay after replay of the incident. A journey from shock, to disbelief, finally through to relief.

    This interview is so difficult to read. Another reminder of how awful this crash was. I genuinely wish him well.

    1. Davey, I think exactly the same way!

      As an F1 driver, he sucks (pardon for my “French”), but as a human being, what a men!!!

      Literally my eyes got full of tears while reading this. Such an emotional history, almost one week later and I’m still astonished that he made it only with minor hand burns.

      1. “As an F1 driver, he sucks”

        He is hardly WC material but keep in mind that he has ten career F1 podiums.

        They were all in pre-hybrid era though, admittedly. None with Haas.

        1. In my opinion he was half decent and half erratic.

        2. someone or something
          4th December 2020, 14:59

          @yaru

          He is hardly WC material but keep in mind that he has ten career F1 podiums.

          They were all in pre-hybrid era though

          He scored a podium in Spa in 2015, i.e. 1 hybrid-era podium.

    2. The fact that Romain is a humble man off-track always gives me a smile. I would definitely have a chat with him while drinking a cup of coffee.

    3. The crash was his fault sporting wise (he would have gotten a penalty if he , but when you look it from his onboard, you can see the cars infront were starting to tangle and he was just trying to take precautions and avoid it, and that not seeing Kvyiat in the (notoriously bad) F1 mirrors.

      1. Paul Schofield
        5th December 2020, 0:35

        I haven’t managed to work out who was driving the white car that left the circuit on the right and then not only rejoined without slowing, but also crossed straight over to the racing line on the left. He was the primary cause of this accident – definitely not rejoining in a safe manner, and deserves penalties/points deductions. His arrival in a crowded field caused the concertina slowing up and explains Grosean’s switch to the right more understandable – whilst not absolving his responsibility to actually look where he was going.

  5. Shivering.

    Be aware DR and SV might complain there’s too much story over this.

    1. You think you’re pretty funny with that, don’t you? Pretty clever, with your snide little comment to imply they were both being silly when they complained about the coverage?

      I don’t think you are.

    2. Ignore the flak, I appreciate your comment

  6. Wow what a great insight by Roman. Whatever we saw on TV wasn’t even half of it, probably all of that was 10-15 seconds, maybe less, weird how when you imagine it happening it seems terrifying but he was quite matter of fact and analytical. I cant see how anyone can come back and drive again after that but I’m not an f1 driver

  7. That makes me emotional reading that, very powerful. So glad it had a good outcome.

    1. This exactly, it’s very powerful reading Grosjean’s interview with him talking so candidly about his experience so soon after Sunday.

  8. What a hero. Nobody will ever forget you, Romain!

    1. Romain: A true survivor.

  9. Impressive to read this, very emotional to read about a father that doesn’t want his kids to grow up without him. I can relate to that a lot.

    1. Also felt this with my two boys. Truly sickening to think about.

  10. Frightening and at the same time inspiring. Had him give up and waited for rescue and smoke could have killed him. Or have much more severe burns like Lauda’s.

    I guess once the survival mode kicks in, the mind turns on the octa-core processing and time slows down. Very similar reports from life endangering accidents.

    Amazing to see how the process developed in his mind. And how far away from superhero the story is.

    Thank your kids a bit Romain. Motivation was the name of the game.

    1. I now saw that ruined face before me as if projected on a red wall of flame, and it seemed to me I sat for a long time in the wreckage of my cockpit, staring at the vision. Again my mind registered: ‘‘It’s happened.’’ Then my hands began to work with feverish urgency, yet as fast and as accurately as if they had been pieces of machinery: ‘‘Release waist belt, grasp parachute catch with right hand, turn clock-wise, and punch.’’ Off came the canopy and I was staring out at the field, at the turbine that had been torn off the wing and was bouncing over the soft ground, and at the puddles of fuel spreading over the green grass and bursting into fresh sheets of towering orange flame. Two, three breaths and I was inhaling fire. It felt as if a pair of iron tongs had been clamped round my chest. ‘‘You’ve got to get out of here,’’ my mind told me, and to egg myself on I started shouting ‘‘Out, out!’’ over and over again. Grasping the sides of the cockpit, I pulled myself up until I was standing on the parachute (‘‘Out, out!’’). I had got my feet over the cockpit rim when the rockets started exploding under the wings. They skittered wildly over the field and went off with a hellish bang. Taking great leaping strides I ran out along the wing to escape from the flames. And when I emerged from the inferno and my straining lungs filled with fresh air I sank to my knees as if under the impact of a mighty blow.‘‘ Get up and go farther. Quick—get up and go farther.’’ I managed to get to my feet, and as I stumbled a few steps farther everything went black: my eyes had swollen shut. I became aware of piercing pain in my wrists where the flames shooting up through the cockpit floor had burned off the skin between my gloves and the sleeves of my leather jacket. As I caught my foot in a furrow and pitched headlong I heard a man’s voice say: ‘‘Here, I’ll give you a hand. My car’s just over there. Put your arm round my shoulder and we’ll get you to hospital.’’

      Reminds me of Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff’s account of his near-fatal crash on take-off in an Me-262 jet fighter in the final days of the war.

      (source: Steinhoff, J. (1985). The final hours: a German jet pilot plots against Goering. Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America.)

  11. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    4th December 2020, 14:09

    I was going to the gym and I accidentally pushed my tea which fell on my legs and covered my exercise pants burning my skin. I immediately took my pants off and dried the leg. My leg looked like beef tenderloin within an hour. I think the medical staff was grossed out and the doctors couldn’t believe that happened so quickly even though I jumped into a freezing shower immediately and cooled it. It took longer to heal than Grosjean’s burns but within 2-3 weeks it had healed and was just a massive red mark. That’s now disappeared. I saw his videos, he’s so lucky… They probably don’t even qualify as burns.

  12. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    4th December 2020, 15:25

    Funny he had time to think about Niki Lauda among other things when his life was on the line. A bit dramaticised in my opinion.

    1. It was probably like half a second or so in reality. He mentioned that the whole thing felt a lot longer that it was (and Lauda’s is a famous story afterall).

      It was probably like his mind knows about the incident and pushed it to the top due to similarity. When you see similar things, sometimes your mind think of parralels from your memory.

    2. The interview was slightly longer than the above print in this article @asleepatthewheel. Grosjean mentioned how Lauda was his favourite driver in F1 history in the interview, so it’s no wonder that the similarities of the crashes brought that to the forefront of Grosjean’s mind during the incident

  13. Interesting, so it seems that the halo was indeed a problem when trying to jump out of the car, he would’ve been out in 10 seconds otherwise.
    I wonder if something can be done to mitigate that issue in the future.

    1. Without the halo, his head probably would have been hit by the barrier and that would be the end. Either that impact would kill him or made him unconscious where the flames would get him.

      But I see your point, how to keep the halo protection and make it easier to get out from.

    2. Looking at the photos of the pod wedged in the barrier after the fire was out, there was a piece of armco basically bisecting the top opening of the halo. It crosses from the front center support to just left of the rollover T. That left less than half the space for him to try and climb out. It’s amazing to hear that the space was small enough that he had to turn his helmet to fit through it. I had struggled to understand how he could have fit through that tiny space and from his description it sounds like it was mm from being too small. If the whole top of the halo were unblocked it would have been much easier and probably a closer match to the training and tests.

  14. I do wonder whether he actually came as close to dying to the fire as the shock of it leads us to believe. A huge fire is very visually evocative and triggers some of our most primal fears, but I’d imagine that to a driver protected by the survival cell, in a fireproof overall, it isn’t actually that dangerous, at least for a while. The hottest part of the fire would have been where the fuel line is, behind the driver, and he’d be protected from that by the survival cell. The cars and the drivers’ equipment are built to protect the driver against fire long enough for the medical crew to extract him, in case he becomes unconscious. That wasn’t even necessary in this case, but I’d wager that he could have stayed in there until they pulled him out. Of course, extracting himself was likely still the right decision, and I’m sure his lungs are thankful for it. I imagine the most dangerous part of the crash was not the fire but the moment he went through the barrier. Even with the halo, there is still some luck involved in that. Whereas with fire, I think the FIA has largely engineered luck out of the equation.

    1. It seems to me his helmet is as much or more responsible for protecting him during this crash and the fire than the halo. The helmet did not allow the smoke-filled ambient air to enter preventing smoke inhalation. He could have been overwhelmed by the smoke as he was trying to get out and if he did get out his lungs may have been badly damaged.

  15. Sounds like the halo made it hard to get out of the car, fia got lucky that weekend

    1. I see it differently. The halo made it possible for him to get out of the car. Without it his helmet would have taken a direct hit from the armco and likely have been pinned it against the pod. Even if he did survive the face full of steel there is no way he could have moved on his own.

    2. I think that it was actually the Armco that obstructed his escape route @carlosmedrano. Without the halo, he was unlikely to be conscious, so wouldn’t have been able to get out anyhow

  16. Actually a shame lauda is no longer here, would’ve been interesting to see a comment from him since he had firsthand experience with such accidents.

  17. Very scary stuff. Maybe most of all the sit-down-and-die attitude before even really trying. ‘Wait I got some kids, so maybe I should try to get out so I don’t burn alive’. Not bashing Grosjean here as he could have said it wrong, and I don’t know how I’d react in the same situation, just a very weird thing.

  18. Andrew Hardiman
    5th December 2020, 8:25

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