Romain Grosjean made his first appearance in front of the collected media of Formula 1 today in Bahrain and gave a gripping account of the 28 seconds his Bahrain Grand Prix crash and his escape from the resulting fire lasted.
During his account, he admitted there was a moment when he accepted his fate, saying “I’m at peace with myself and I’m going to die”, before thinking about his family and the fact he would not allow himself to be lost.
“Then I think about my kids and I said ‘no, they cannot lose their dad today'” :: Romain Grosjean
Here, in Grosjean’s own words, is his story.
“First of all, for me it wasn’t quite 28 seconds. It felt more like a minute 30 if I had to put a time on it.
“When the car came to a stop, I opened my eyes. I undid my seatbelt straight away.
“The thing I didn’t remember the next day is what did I do with the steering wheel because I don’t have the memory of taking the steering wheel out.
“And they say ‘no, the steering wheel was gone in between your legs, the column and everything broke and went down. So you don’t have to bother with the steering wheel’.
“And then I jump out and I feel 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 until someone comes and helps me’.
“So I wasn’t in stress and obviously not aware at the time there is fire.
“Then I look right and left, and watching on the left I see fire. So I say ‘OK, well I don’t really have the time to wait here’.
“So next thing is that 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.
“I sit back down and then thought about Niki Lauda, his accident [at the Nuburgring in 1976], and thought ‘it couldn’t end like this, it couldn’t be my last race, it 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 started to relax. I’m at peace with myself, and I’m going to die.
“‘Oh shit, I’m like a running fireball'” :: Romain Grosjean
“I asked my question: ‘Is it going to burn my shoe or 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. And then I think about my kids and I said ‘no, they cannot lose their dad today’.
“I don’t know why, but I decided to turn my helmet on the left-hand side and to go up like this and then 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, I pull as hard as I can on my left leg and my foot comes out of the shoe.
“Then I do it again and then the shoulders are going through, and at the time the shoulders are through I know I’m going to jump out.
“I’ve got both hands on the fire at that time. My gloves are red normally, so I see that especially the left one is changing colour and starting melting and going full black, and I feel the pain. But also I feel the relief that I am out of the car.
“And then I jump out. I go on the barrier and then I feel Ian [Roberts] pulling on my overalls, so I know I’m not on my own anymore and there’s someone with me.
“Then I land and then they touch on my back so I’m like ‘Oh shit, I’m like a running fireball’.
“I had the image that, you know we’ve seen a video from the FIA where they did a test, they put someone on fire and he runs around just to show the overalls were strong, and I’ve got an image that I’ve got fire following me.
“And then I shake my hands because they are very hot, in pain. I remove my gloves straight away because I’ve also got that image that the skin is doing bubbles and melting and is going to stick to the glove. So straight away, I want to remove both of my gloves so that the hands are… I mean, so the skin doesn’t go with it.
“Even though I’d 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” :: Romain Grosjean
“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’. And I guess he understood that I was OK at that time, that I was normal. And then we sit and we’re too close to the fire, and I hear the extinguisher guys, ‘the battery is on fire, bring some other extinguishers, bring some other extinguishers’.
“And then we go into the medical car and sit down. They put some cold compress on my hands because I told them my hands are burning, 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 but the left foot starts being very painful.
“Then Ian explains to me the ambulance is coming in and that ‘they’re going to come with the [medical] bed and you’re going be OK’.
“And I say ‘no, no, no, we walk into the ambulance’. ‘No, no, no, no, the bed is coming’. And I said ‘no, no, no’. And I walk out of the car and I say ‘we are walking’, and he says ‘OK, we are going to help you’.
“I guess on the medical side, it wasn’t the 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 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 burned hands, one broken foot’. That’s all I could say to everyone I was meeting just because I was scared of my condition and I wanted everyone that was coming and treating me to know what the symptoms were.
“So yeah, I guess that is the full story of 28 seconds and then the rest.
“But 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 to me look like, you know, one, two, three seconds [each]. I don’t know.”