It was like a scene from an action movie, only that it was completely blank and really life threatening, and involved a breathtaking escape that Harry Houdini would have found difficult to achieve.
Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean was trapped in a burning car after it was cut in half and exploded into a ball of fire after falling on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
When flames hit the desert night sky, Grosjean was in a raging furnace for about 10 to 15 seconds.
Somehow the quick-thinking French didn’t give in to panic.
Somehow he was clear enough to find a way out.
He jumped through the flames like an action hero, then grabbed the molten metal barrier in front of him and fell over it onto the track.
Sure, though visibly shaken, he was good enough to go to the ambulance with the help of two medics.
“Romain has light burns to his hands and ankles but is otherwise fine,” said his Haas team. The relief for his distraught teammate Kevin Magnussen and others watching from the paddock was immense. Drivers and other team members spontaneously applauded.
“I’ve seen a lot of fire and thought it wasn’t a good thing,” said Max Verstappen from Red Bull. “Fortunately, he’s fine and hopefully he’ll recover.”
The 34-year-old Grosjean climbed out of the burning wreck with his racing helmet and his fireproof racing tunic when the track marshals sprayed him with a fire extinguisher.
“I would like to thank the rescue workers who are very quick,” said Haas team boss Günther Steiner. “The marshals and FIA guys did a great job, it was scary.”
When Grosjean was taken by helicopter to a military hospital, where he was detained overnight, the drivers reacted to the vibration scene.
“The car, the cockpit. I don’t know which G’s he pulled, but I’m so grateful that the halo worked,” said F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton, who won the restarted race. “It shows what a great job Formula 1 has done, the FIA has done, so that he can move away from something like that.”
Compatriot Pierre Gasly, who drives for AlphaTauri, was shocked.
“It was horrible, really scary. I had no idea that a Formula 1 car could break down like that,” said Gasly. “I texted him wishing him a good recovery. I think he’s fine, but it’s really scary.”
X-rays from the hospital showed that Grosjean didn’t even break a bone, despite an estimated impact speed of 200 km / h.
If he hadn’t managed to break free, it would have been extremely difficult to pull him out of the cockpit.
“I’ve never seen so much fire in 12 years. It took Romain a while to process, but then Romain got out of the car himself, which was amazing,” said Alan van der Merwe, the driver of the F1 ambulance . “Today everything worked hand in hand: the halo, the barriers, the seat belt. Without one of the things, there could have been a different result.”
The halo is a safety device that forms a protective ring around the driver’s head. It was introduced after the death of French driver Jules Bianchi after suffering massive head trauma on a rain-soaked track six years ago at the Japanese GP and climbing upside down into a crane. Two years ago, Charles Leclerc – Bianchi’s close friend – was likely seriously injured or killed by the halo when another car landed on his at the Belgian GP.
Hamilton and Verstappen weren’t fans of the halo at first. Things have changed.
“I think the halo saved his life,” said Verstappen. “When it came to the cars, I was pretty critical and it looked ugly. But you can’t say anything about safety because it definitely saved Roman today.”
Grosjean’s accident happened when he slipped to the right and his rear wheel locked the front of Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri, causing Grosjean to fly sideways into the barrier.
“If everyone else is shocked, imagine how his family is feeling (at the time),” said Hamilton. “The flames, the car that broke in two and doesn’t know where the driver is, and he jumping out of those flames. I can’t imagine what that is like.”
It reminded Hamilton of a traumatic experience from his youth as a kart driver.
“When I was nine years old, I saw a child die on the same day that I won a race, so I was always aware of the dangers and risks,” said Hamilton. “I’m thinking of Roman too. He has a wife and children, that has to be something to worry about. Because it’s a privilege to be able to do what we do, but there are so many and so many others Making things.”