Formula 1 team owner Gene Haas has revealed he was set to sponsor Romain Grosjean in IndyCar for 2021, before withdrawing due to fears over Grosjean’s safety following his Bahrain Grand Prix crash.
Grosjean was initially intending to contest the whole 2021 IndyCar season including the ovals before his fiery accident at Sakhir which left him with severe burns on his hands.
“He has a wife and three kids, and I just told him I couldn’t see giving him money to go out and kill himself” :: Gene Haas
Following the incident Grosjean spoke at length about the impact of the crash on his family, and how much that affected him.
“What is the hardest for me is not what I went through,” said Grosjean last year. “This is my life, my job and the risk we take.
“But it’s what I put people through. My family, my parents, my wife, my kids, my friends, for [more than] two minutes, their friend, their father, their husband was [thought to be] dead.”
Haas dropped Grosjean from his F1 team for 2021 after five seasons but has revealed he intended to back him in IndyCar before the crash changed his attitude.
“He had asked if we would be willing to sponsor him in IndyCar, and I think at the beginning I was pretty open to it,” Haas told Racer.
“But then when he crashed in Bahrain, I was just so happy he didn’t kill himself.
“For someone who has just absolutely destroyed the car, I couldn’t be happier that he survived it.
“I don’t know… he has a wife and three kids, and I just told him I couldn’t see giving him money to go out and kill himself.
“I just felt like he needs to stay home and take care of his family.
You can’t begrudge Haas having a strong emotional reaction to Grosjean’s accident. But this actually ends up more cruel than compassionate
“He escaped the big one there. If you really understood what happened there… if that car had been a few degrees one way or the other, he wouldn’t have been able to get out through that hoop, and he would have died. So, extremely lucky.
“And the team was extremely lucky. I just could not fathom having to face a widow or his kids. I just couldn’t do that. So I said ‘Nah, stay home, I can’t help you there anymore’.”
Grosjean admitted thoughts of his family had been a factor when he decided his initial IndyCar campaign should be just the road and street courses not a full season, but he hasn’t ruled out ovals in the future.
“I think if I was 25 and single or even with no kids, I would be racing ovals definitely,” he said when his Dale Coyne Racing deal was announced.
“It’s also a family choice.
“I think on November 29, 2020, for 2 minutes 45 seconds thought they had lost a dad and my wife unfortunately lost her husband. The idea of putting them back into that situation, really I can’t take it.
“The [super]speedways at the minute, no. But I am not saying 100% no to Gateway [a mid-length oval]. Let’s see how the season goes, if we can do some testing on a short track and see how it goes.
“It’s not 100% yes and 100% no, but for now I just need to look after my family in the [super]speedways.”
Haas, who also part-owns a NASCAR team with Tony Stewart, elected to go with an all new line-up of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher in F1 for the 2021 season.
He added that seeing Grosjean walk away from the crash was probably his “happiest day in racing” and that the driver is capable of being “as good as any driver out there”.
But he felt he couldn’t be a part of Grosjean’s “bad choice” to continue.
“You know, Grosjean’s a heck of a driver,” Haas continued.
“He has some really good days when I think he’s probably as good as any driver out there. He loves driving, and that’s his choice.
“I just don’t want to be part of the bad choice.
“I feel as lucky as he is to escape being killed. That was the luckiest day in the whole Haas F1 saga, that Grosjean managed to survive that, and relatively unscathed.
“It wasn’t so terrifying in the fact that he jumped out, but the hoop was stuck between the guardrails. If that hoop was a little bit smaller then his helmet wouldn’t have fit through it and he would have died.
“He came very close. So I’m very happy. That was probably the happiest day in racing, was to see him jump out of that car.”
Grosjean tested an IndyCar for the first time earlier this week at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, the venue for the first race of the season on April 18.
The Race says
– Matt Beer
I’ve written before about how the nature of Romain Grosjean’s Bahrain crash escape created complicated feelings about his choice of what to do in 2021 – and that it also really shouldn’t have done on a logical level.
His praiseworthy openness about confronting the pain his family went through that day at Sakhir put them front and centre of people’s responses to the accident in a way that hasn’t always been the case in discussions of spectacular motorsport crash outcomes.
I’m sure I won’t be the only person wincing a little more if or when Grosjean has a heavy IndyCar shunt, even though rationally I shouldn’t be responding any differently to a Grosjean crash than if it was a driver whose family I was less aware of or who hadn’t had such a well-documented miracle escape.
So there’s a level on which Haas’s response is understandable emotionally.
But it also lacks all logic.
If Haas is that concerned about the possibility of drivers with families getting hurt, he needs to have a policy of only signing single, childless drivers for the future across his teams.
If his stance relates to IndyCar specifically, then he’s overlooking the fact that this savage, terrifying, explosive crash happened in F1. And that violent fiery crashes are far from rare – particularly on superspeedways – in the NASCAR Cup Series where his more successful team thrives. This time last year it was 2009-13 Stewart-Haas driver Ryan Newman at the centre of a miracle escape storyline after his awful impact in the Daytona 500 pile-up.
If his comments are aimed directly at Grosjean’s actual driving, rather than the series he competes in, then presumably he would’ve been insisting Grosjean was barred from competing in the remaining two F1 races of 2020 had he been fit to return? After all, it was Grosjean’s own positioning misjudgement that led to the crash – and he has a famous history of first-lap misjudgements.
You can’t begrudge Haas having a strong emotional reaction to Grosjean’s accident. Any human would, especially those who know Grosjean well.
But to cut a sponsorship deal as a result of it, and to publicly express the reasoning in those terms, actually ends up more cruel than compassionate.