Romain Grosjean's escape was a miracle but relief must give way to cold hard science of investigation

Questions must be asked of barrier in Bahrain and fuel seals in the Haas car

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It's difficult to imagine the terror that must have surged through Romain Grosjean's soul as the flames raged around his cockpit in Bahrain.

Two races from retirement, the 34-year-old Frenchman felt the rising heat and saw only blinding orange flame through his visor and knew he was trapped.

He thought of his parents, his two young sons, aged seven and five, and his daughter just two and then he admitted: “I saw death coming.” Twice he tried to get out and twice he failed.

Thoughts of his children spurred him to put his hands on the red hot cockpit sides and then the halo to fight for life.

He had left the track at 221kph (137mph) and the impact was measured at 53G; surely the biggest of modern times. He came to a halt in less than seven feet, his car broken in two and buried in an inferno.

Fans later voted the Haas racer as Driver of the Day. They weren’t only voting for his racing skill. It was a vote of compassion, a vote for all of humanity; it was a vote for and from everyone who fights this battle called life and wins a day at a time.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have a multi-million dollar safety industry behind us, nor the remarkable FIA safety machine, or courageous, highly-skilled doctors nine seconds away when the crucial moment comes.

People talk of the miracle but there was more than one on that day.

The halo that saved Grosjean’s life had only been introduced a couple of years ago and without it his helmet and head would have taken much of the impact of the upper rail. Could he have survived that? I doubt it.

Had many in F1 got their way at the time, including Grosjean, it would never have been introduced.

That it did was down to FIA president Jean Todt, a curiously cold fish who is difficult to warm up to but, easy to admire. This week he must be applauded for helping to save a life.


It’s a miracle, too, that only recently Alpinestars have again uprated their remarkable race overalls. Tested in a 1000 degree Celsius burner, race suits have to last a regulation 12 seconds, shoes and gloves 11 seconds and the palm of the gloves (where feeling is needed to drive) eight.

Does the four seconds explain the difference between burned hands and untouched body? And demonstrate just how close he came? Gripping red hot bodywork unquestionably had an effect too.

The miracle of the fire is manyfold. Max Verstappen’s dad, Jos, described a similar moment in his Benetton in 1994.

“All I could see was black,” he said. “The fire feeds on the air and I couldn’t breathe,” He was in the pitlane and it lasted just seconds but the next breath would have been fire.

Grosjean leapt free after 28 seconds – an age in such circumstances – but the flames had been held at bay by helmet and balaclava.

The flames are actually what makes it so shocking. That is not supposed to happen in F1.

And this is where the amazement, relief and gratitude must give way to cold hard science because there are difficult issues to be faced by the accident investigation.

Questions must be asked of the barrier. Having a strong steel support connected to weaker fencing is a recipe for disaster, surely. The remarkable survival cell saved him from the impact but the car’s back was broken.

And then there is the angle of the barrier to the track. Another question mark.

There is also the key issue of how and why the fuel escaped. F1 systems are designed with seals to prevent spills.

It was confirmation that, for all the advances, the risks in F1 are still enormous. That’s why drivers are paid as much as they are. “It’s never enough when you are risking your life,” Ayrton Senna told me once.

The miracle continues, though, because Grosjean was released from hospital just three days later and is determined to end his F1 career in Abu Dhabi in the cockpit, a week on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton is also hoping to be cleared to race after contracting the coronavirus.

There was shock he had tested positive after the extreme isolation of a support bubble of just two other people.

It must have been a mirage then when I saw him leap into the arms of a dozen sweaty mechanics after winning his seventh world title in Turkey. I guess the virus didn’t get the memo that it was a special occasion.