Romain Grosjean: Racing Driver or Superhero?
The safety in Formula 1, among other motorsport series, has improved so much over the recent years; nobody can argue against that, only for it. Of course, throughout history, there’s been a number of incidents, some in which those involved didn’t survive, but as safety has improved, more lives have been saved. In more recent times, specifically 2014, an accident in Suzuka took the life of Marussia driver, Jules Bianchi, who passed away the following year after sustaining a severe head injury.
Since his death, his legacy has lived on in Formula 1 in the form of safety developments. Most significantly, the halo head protection device – a curved titanium bar which protects the drivers’ head – which many have given credit to for saving their lives, in Formula 1, plus its feeder series, Formula 2 and Formula 3.
Romain Grosjean: born in Geneva but racing under a French licence, he has had two stints in Formula 1. Initially in 2009, when he was an official test driver for Renault, and was given the opportunity to partner Fernando Alonso at the final seven races of the season. At the Brazilian Grand Prix, he finished thirteenth, his best during his first stint as an official F1 driver. He continued his relationship with Formula 1 as a test driver for Pirelli in 2010, while also competing in other racing series. In 2011, he found himself competing in GP2 (now known as F2), for French racing team, DAMS. This stint in the GP2 Series saw him named as the Champion of the 2011 season. He was then promoted back to Formula 1 to drive for Renault again, but they were now known as Lotus F1 Team.
Haas F1 Team, headed by Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner, found their spot on the F1 grid for the 2016 season, with Grosjean announced as their driver, alongside Esteban Gutiérrez. Romain is still part of the team today, now partnered with Kevin Magnussen (since 2017), however, both drivers announced that they would be leaving the F1 grid at the end of the 2020 season, with Abu Dhabi expected to be their final race with the team.
We’ve had a mad season this year, with new tracks on the calendar compared to a year we would deem normal in F1. Two consecutive races at Silverstone and in Bahrain, plus visits to tracks for the first time in years, from Imola to Nurburgring – there’s been plenty of excitement from start to finish. And now, as I sit writing this, we’re waiting patiently for the second race in Bahrain, the Sakhir Grand Prix, the only night race on the revised 2020 calendar.
The past week has been quite difficult to comprehend. Seven-time World Champ, Lewis Hamilton unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 and George Russell was promoted to his seat in the Championship-winning team. Firstly, we are all sending our best wishes to Lewis for a speedy recovery. Williams Reserve driver, Jack Aitken, was preparing for the final round of the FIA F2 Championship, but he was promoted to Russell’s Williams seat for the weekend. Although, the most terrifying moment of the past week was lap one at the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday. The entire F1 community, all of those watching the race live on TV or following on social media, were reminded of just how important safety is in motorsport, and how it has improved over the years.
An accident which would’ve been fatal at one point in Formula 1. When Grosjean collided with the Armco barrier at the side of the track, his car split in two and was engulfed into flames. As per FIA regulations, the Medical Car follows behind the cars on the grid at the beginning of the race and in this case, said regulation was life-saving. An immediate red flag and consequently, immediate panic from the drivers, the commentators on the live broadcast, and across social media. Like many, I have never seen an accident like that in Formula 1, especially not in recent years with such flames engulfing the car, separated in two, with the driver still trapped inside.
Fear resonated within everyone for what felt like a lifetime, but, that moment in which Romain was finally able to extricate himself from his burning car was one I’m sure we’ll all remember forever. The image of him climbing over the destroyed barrier and to safety, greeted by Dr Ian Roberts and Alan van der Merwe, both of whom were following the pack in the safety car, along with the track marshals, was the most relieving, for drivers, teams and fans. Initially thought to have sustained some broken ribs in the accident, Grosjean was taken to the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Hospital with burns to his hands. When you think about it, in an accident which looked to be fatal, it is extraordinary to have escaped with such injury. Relief felt by all when he was able to walk to the ambulance, and absolute delight when we all saw that he was smiling in hospital, only hours after his crash.
He was back in the F1 Paddock on Thursday, where he met those responsible for ‘saving his life’. The videos from the paddock, so touching, and a prominent reminder of how important the safety in a high-speed sport like Formula 1 truly is. With Pietro Fittipaldi in the Haas this weekend, Grosjean was hoping to return for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, just as planned for the rest of the drivers. Abu Dhabi would have been Romain’s last F1 race (for now, anyway – who knows if he plans to return!)… but, earlier today, he confirmed that to ensure his recovery was at its height and that he wasn’t risking his health any further, that competing in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was not the wisest of decisions.
Mercedes have offered him a private test, so that he can go back out in an F1 car again, since nobody wants his last F1 outing to be remembered as one that he didn’t finish, one in which he was injured. I think we’d all love to see that. Romain deserves it.
Drivers across all series of motorsport, not only Formula 1, deserve to be recognised as something maybe a little extraordinary. They deserve so much respect, considering that each time they step foot into their car, even though they might not think about it, there is always that chance of injury, or maybe even worse. I think the incident last week in Bahrain reminded us all of the harsh reality of motorsport and the risks which come alongside that. Lance Stroll of Racing Point also saw himself experience an unexpected accident too, in which his car was left upside down on the side of the track, leaving him to crawl out of the car to safety. Thankfully, he was okay, but again, the stark reminder of the risks arises again of the sport we all love.
I think the most spine-chilling thing about the whole ordeal, is how Romain described it in his first English language TV interview for Sky Sports with Martin Brundle. He told Brundle that he was ‘almost at peace’ in his car, after failed attempts of trying to escape from the burning wreckage. Stuck in the survival cell of his Haas for almost half a minute, Grosjean described how it felt like almost a minute longer than it really was. When he realised that he was surrounded by fire, he discussed how he ‘thought of Niki Lauda’, who was seriously injured and left with severe burns in an accident at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. As he talked about death, Romain said he named it ‘Benoit’, because he just had to put a name on it. Yet, he did not meet Benoit last weekend. Instead, he managed to remove himself from his car, over the damaged barrier and to safety. And in that moment, I think we were all at peace, because we knew Romain was okay.
Despite not racing in Abu Dhabi next weekend, Grosjean’s stint at Haas has been eventful, to say the least, yet he has been there throughout their entire F1 journey so far. We will all miss him in F1, however, no matter where he decides to go in 2021 and in the future, we know that he will be successful.
He might be a normal human being like you and I, but, his experience as a racing driver, particularly last weekend, shows how actually, he has something a little extra.
Romain Grosjean is a superhero.
Image Credit: HaasF1Team on Twitter, RGrosjean on Twitter