FIA medic Dr Ian Roberts said it was like an “oven” when he and his crew arrived at the scene of Romain Grosjean’s Bahrain crash.
Thanks to the intervention of medics at the Bahrain International Circuit, Grosjean escaped from his horrifying crash which saw his Haas split in two and burst into flames upon hitting a barrier, with only minor injuries.
Among the first on the scene were medical car driver Alan van der Merwe and medical deligate Roberts.
“We saw the fireball early on, of course,” Roberts told Motorsport.com.
“But then arriving on scene, the car, well half a car, the rear end, was pointing in the wrong direction. And it was, ‘Where on earth is the rest?’
“We just looked to the right. And it was pretty obvious where it was, with a big gap in the armco. And we could see through, with Romain trying to try to get himself out.”
Grosjean thankfully was able to get himself unstrapped from the wreckage, and fire extinguishers provided vital seconds for Grosjean to move through the flames before being pulled over the barrier and to safety.
The word fireball was an accurate description for the scene, with Roberts saying it was like staring into an “oven” as they searched for a way to get to Grosjean.
Just to add to the challenge, Roberts was wearing an open helmet.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but it looked like an oven,” he explained.
“So it was red with flame. And you could see him trying to get himself out, and he was gradually getting himself further and further out.
“But it was how do we get to him? There was a fire marshal pretty rapidly on scene. And that push of the extinguisher, the powder just pushed the flames back enough.
“Once Romain was high enough then we could get him over the barrier and away. But it’s a very small window, I have to say because as soon as the extinguisher powder went forward, the flames were coming back pretty soon afterwards.
“That bit was stinging. It’s definitely helped my tan! Something melted on me, but I was pretty well protected otherwise. The flame was pretty intense.
“If there’s somebody in trouble, you go and help, you have to assess the risk. I mean, it would have been daft to try and go in there with the flames coming towards you, so that extinguisher helped, for sure.
“To incapacitate myself, it would have been crazy to do that. It’s a balance of risk. I go in when I can, if the flames are coming at me, there’s nothing I can do. As much as it’s upsetting, you can only do so much.”
“That’s what Ian’s been doing all of his life pretty much, rescuing people when they’re in a bit of trouble,” van der Merwe added.
“Funnily enough, priority number one is not actually the driver, it’s Ian, because when Ian is down, then nothing’s going to happen anymore.
“So you kind of have to manage your risk appropriately. Ian runs in there and gets incapacitated, I’m not going to be able to do much.
“There’s so many things to balance it to just, to judge within one or two seconds, whether we’re waiting for fire support, for some extinguisher support, or whether you’re trying to go in. There’s a lot there’s a lot to decide.”
Roberts stressed though that it was a team of medical professionals who carried out the rescue operation, not just himself and van der Merwe.
“He said that he was in pain from his foot, and from his hands, because as you know, he has some burns on his hands, which are extremely painful,” said Roberts when describing Grosjean’s state as they helped him over the barrier.
“But it was just a matter of getting him sat down briefly, just to check the life threatening things were covered. And then getting him away from the flame. So then, it was into the ambulance and off to the medical centre.
“Of course, I’d have to say that it’s not just the two of us, we have a national doctor with us in the car, there’s a whole medical team here, a whole set of marshals, fire marshals, rescue people.
“And they all did their bit. If they weren’t there, it’s not just a two-man show, we work with a team, we work together as a team. So it’s important to recognise that.”
Ian and Alan did sim too 🙏🙏🙏 https://t.co/Nhxr31dqZY
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) December 3, 2020
Roberts and van der Merwe, it should also be pointed out, are not a trained fire service, making their actions even more commendable.
“At the beginning of every day we run through a checklist for the car, for our equipment, but we also run through a checklist of scenarios,” said Roberts.
“So we always talk about cars under barriers, cars on the roof, like Lance [Stroll], flipping onto the roof. We’ve already talked about that scenario, and what we do in mobilising marshals.
“The same for fire. Go for the extinguisher, and we go in and do what we can, as the fire is being extinguished. No, we’re not firemen. We’re not fire trained. But we know how to use them.”
So with all that in mind, van der Merwe is correct in saying the outcome was “incredibly positive”.
“It’s important to note that we’re not there for the easy ones, we’re there for the ones that are genuinely novel,” he explained.
“Nine out of 10 accidents are easily survivable. Everything works as it should, the barriers and all of these things kind of work perfectly.
“Every now and then, let’s say once every five years or so, we see something that exceeds the design parameters of what we thought of. And that’s what we hit.
“That’s why we have 550 horsepower, so that we’re there three seconds quicker. And that’s why we take all the shortcuts we can.
“And so we’re looking for tiny, tiny things, so that if Ian was there five seconds slower, or if he took five seconds to decide, it could be very different.
“The outcome was incredibly positive. In terms of incidents that we’ve seen together, this was very much at the top of the list in terms of magnitude of being impressive.”