Warning — this story contains details that some readers may find distressing
It took 28 seconds for Romain Grosjean to emerge from the flaming wreckage of his Haas Formula One car on Sunday night.
On impact with the crash barrier, Grosjean’s body was subjected to 53 times the force of gravity, which was enough to split the car in two and ignite the wreckage in a ball of flames.
Over the next 28 seconds, Grosjean faced death, accepted it and then instantly rejected it.
Sat on a video conference call in the F1 paddock five days later, Grosjean, whose worst injuries extend to burns on the back of his hands, was able to talk journalists through the incident.
Below is the remarkable story of those 28 seconds, the horror he faced and the quick thinking that saved his life.
“Let me relive those 28 seconds and bring you with me.
“For me, it wasn’t quite 28 seconds; it felt more like a minute 30, if I had to put a time on it.
“When the car came to a stop I opened my eyes and unclicked my seatbelt straight away.
“The thing I didn’t remember the next day is what I did with the steering wheel as I didn’t have the memory of taking it off and they said, ‘no, the steering wheel’s gone in between your legs, the column and everything broke and went down’. So I didn’t have to bother with the steering wheel.
“So I go to jump out and I feel like something is touching my head, so sit back down in the car. My first thought is I’m going to wait, I’m upside down against the wall so I’ll wait for someone else to come and helps me.
“I wasn’t stressed and not aware there was fire, but then I looked right and left and saw on the left there is a fire.
“So, OK, I don’t really have the time to wait here, next time I try to go up a bit more on the right, it doesn’t work, go on the left, doesn’t work, sit back down and I thought about Niki Lauda, his accident, thought it couldn’t end like this, it couldn’t be my last race, it couldn’t finish like this, no way. So I try again and I’m stuck and so I go back down.
“And then there’s the less pleasant moment where my body starts to relax, I’m in peace with myself and I’m going to die.
“I ask my question, is it going to burn my shoe or my foot or my hand is it going to be painful, where’s it going to start. And I mean, to me that looks like 2-3-4 seconds but I guess it was milliseconds at the time.
“Then I think about my kids, and I say no they cannot lose their dad today. So I don’t know why I did what I did but I decided to turn my helmet on the left hand side and to go up like this and try and twist my shoulder.
“That sort of works, but then I realise my foot is stuck in the car so I sit back down, pull as hard as I can on my left leg, the shoe stayed with my foot was but my foot came out of the shoe.
“Then I do it again and my shoulders are going through and by the time the shoulder was through I know I’m going to jump out, so I’ve got both hands on the fire at that time, I see my gloves, which are normally red, I see especially the left one changing colour and starting melting and going full black.
“I feel the pain my hands are in the fire but also I feel the relief that I am out of the car, and then I jump out, go on the barrier, feel Ian [Roberts, the FIA doctor] pulling on my overall so I know I am not on my own anymore and there is someone with me.
“I land and they touch on my back so I’m like, ‘Oh s—, I am a running fireball!’ The image that you know we’ve seen on the video the FIA shows us where they do a test, put someone on fire, and run around to show the overall was strong.
“Then I shake my hand as they’re very hot and painful, I removed the gloves straightaway as I’ve got this image that the skin is bubbling and melting and is going to stick to the gloves, so straight away I want to remove the gloves… the skin doesn’t go with it.
“Then Ian comes to see me and speaks to me and says, “sit down!’ and I gave him s—, I said, ‘talk to me normally please’, I guess he understood at that time that I was OK, I was normal.
“Then we sit and we are too close to the fire, I hear the guys with the extinguisher say the battery is on fire bring some other extinguishers, then we go into the medical car, sit down, they put some cold compress on my hand as I told them my hands are burning and my foot is broken.
“Then the pain really starts going very high, especially on the left foot, the hands were okay at the time but the left foot starts being very painful.
“Ian explains the ambulance is coming and they’re going to come with the bed and you’re going to be OK and we keep talking at the time. I say, ‘no now we walk to the ambulance, they say ‘no, no the bed is coming’, I say ‘no, no, no, I walk out of the car, and say we are walking’, ‘okay we’ll help you’.
“I guess on the medical side it wasn’t a perfect decision but they understood for me it was key there was footage of me walking towards the ambulance, so even though I walked out of the fire I needed to send another strong message that I was okay and I was going to walk towards the ambulance.
“Then every time I met anyone I said two burnt hands one broken foot, that’s all I could say to everyone I was meeting, just because I was scared obviously of my conditions and I wanted everyone who was coming and treating me to know that what my symptoms were.
“So I guess that is the full story of 28 seconds and then the rest, as you can imagine, it felt longer than 28 seconds with all the thoughts I had, it must have been milliseconds, but all the thoughts looked to me like 1-2-3 seconds.”