Lewis Hamilton celebrated his seventh world championship by winning a Bahrain Grand Prix that will be remembered for Romain Grosjean’s remarkable escape from his fireball inferno.
Grosjean, 34, scrambled to get out of his burning car for almost half a minute before eventually leaping away and into the arms of Formula One doctor, Englishman Ian Roberts, who was one of the first men on the scene.
Grosjean moved to his right at the third corner of the opening lap, before hitting the front-left wheel of Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri, and penetrating the steel barrier head-on at 140mph. The force of the impact, which registered at 53G, split his machine in two.
Grosjean’s cockpit, now on the other side of the Armco, instantly burst into flames, and the sport held its breath as television cameras cut hastily away. The race was immediately stopped.
But after several agonising minutes, Grosjean’s Haas team reported that their driver was out of the cockpit. He was then pictured sitting in the medical car before limping towards an ambulance, aided by Roberts and medical car driver Alan Van Der Merwe. Grosjean had leapt out of his burning machine with his racing boot missing from his left foot.
Grosjean, who entered the third from last race of the season here knowing it will be his 10th and final campaign after being dropped by Haas, was airlifted to the BDF Military Hospital, 10 miles north of the Bahrain International Circuit, with burns to his hands and ankles.
He posted a video from his hospital bed late on Sunday night, with hands bandaged and tubes monitoring his vital statistics. He will remain there overnight for observation.
The halo device – the driver-cockpit protection system controversially introduced in 2018 – played a prominent role in the Frenchman’s remarkable escape.
An update from Romain himself. Pleased to see you’re in good spirits! We hope you make a speedy recovery 🙏 pic.twitter.com/njnjjH4GBi
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) November 29, 2020
Grosjean was a pallbearer at countryman Jules Bianchi’s funeral in 2015. Bianchi died nine months after he crashed into a tractor at the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix.
The halo, a three-pronged device which sits above the driver’s head, was pushed through following the devastating brain injuries Bianchi sustained in the accident.
“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago but I think it’s the greatest thing that we brought to Formula One, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today,” said Grosjean in the video.
A heart-stopping moment on Lap 1 in Bahrain
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 29, 2020
“So thanks to all the medical staff at the circuit, at the hospital and hopefully I can write you soon some messages and tell you how it’s going.”
Hamilton, who was leading the race at the time of the incident, was seen shaking his head as he watched a replay of the jaw-dropping accident from inside the Mercedes garage as the grand prix was suspended.
The footage showed Roberts, the sport’s medical rescue coordinator, trying to aid Grosjean who was in his cockpit for 28 seconds before he finally emerged from his burning wreck.
Commenting afterwards, Roberts said: “We saw the fireball early on, but then arriving on the scene there was half the car pointing in the wrong direction and then I thought where on earth is the rest?
“We looked to the right, saw a big gap in the barrier, and we could see Romain was trying to get out.
“It looked like an oven. It was red with flame and you could see Romain trying to get himself out, and he was gradually getting himself further and further out.
“There was a fire marshal rapidly on scene and that push of the extinguisher pushed the flames back enough, so once Romain was high enough we could get him over the barrier and away.
“But it was a very small window because as soon as the extinguisher powder went forward, the flames were coming back pretty soon afterwards.”
With Grosjean’s wreck removed and the Armco repaired, the race started again following a 90-minute stoppage. But there was further drama after just eight corners when Lance Stroll was flipped upside down.
Kvyat attempted to pass Stroll at the right-handed Turn 8, but instead sent the Canadian on to the roof of his Racing Point.
Stroll clambered out of his cockpit, reporting that he was “OK” over the radio, and the safety car was deployed. Kvyat was hit with a 10-second penalty, while Stroll was given the all-clear following a visit to the medical centre.
Hamilton completed two regulation stops for new tyres and comfortably kept Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished second, at bay.
The Briton has now led more laps this season than of any year in his F1 career, while claiming his 11th triumph of 2020.
If he wins the final two rounds in Bahrain next Sunday and at the season-decider in Abu Dhabi on December 13, he will match Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel’s joint record for the most number of victories in a year.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was denied a podium after an engine failure just three laps from the end.
Alexander Albon finished third for Red Bull as the race ended under the safety car following Perez’s retirement and British driver Lando Norris was fourth – narrowly avoiding hitting a marshal attempting to aid Perez in his stricken Racing Point on a chaotic day the sport will not forget in a hurry.