There’s no question that Romain Grosjean, the former Formula 1 driver who is now an IndyCar hopeful, is lucky to still be with us after his harrowing crash during last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Grosjean’s car split apart, sending the portion he was in underneath a guardrail where he was nearly trapped in the blaze. If he had been unable to escape, he would have been killed.
But Grosjean is a racer, and his work isn’t finished. This year, he’s making the trip across the pond to the U.S., where he’ll compete in IndyCar for Dale Coyne and Rick Ware Racing. Gene Haas, who runs the F1 team that Grosjean just departed, was planning to sponsor Grosjean’s IndyCar endeavors well before the accident. But the crash gave Haas second thoughts, he told Racer in an interview published today, even as Grosjean decided to continue with the plan:
“He had asked if we would be willing to sponsor him in IndyCar, and I think at the beginning I was pretty open to it,” Haas told RACER. “But then when he crashed in Bahrain, I was just so happy he didn’t kill himself. For someone who has just absolutely destroyed the car, I couldn’t be happier that he survived it.
“I don’t know… he has a wife and three kids, and I just told him I couldn’t see giving him money to go out and kill himself. I just felt like he needs to stay home and take care of his family. He escaped the big one there. If you really understood what happened there… if that car had been a few degrees one way or the other, he wouldn’t have been able to get out through that hoop, and he would have died. So, extremely lucky.
I don’t think there’s any lack of understanding about what happened in Grosjean’s crash — the man himself explained it in excruciating, sobering detail shortly after it happened. On some level, I can also sympathize with Haas’ apprehension. That wreck was hard enough to watch as a spectator and probably doubly horrifying as one of the crew.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that Grosjean’s decision to continue racing clearly isn’t one the Frenchman has taken lightly. That’s evident in his stipulation to stay out of the superspeedway rounds on the IndyCar calendar for 2021, including the Indianapolis 500, which I imagine is a tough event for any driver of Grosjean’s caliber to abstain from.
But my god: Gene Haas runs not one but two top-class racing teams — the F1 outfit and Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR. He’s built cars and sponsored numerous drivers over the years to “kill” themselves, in his own words. What makes their situations different than Grosjean’s? That he got very lucky once already and the others haven’t yet?
Haas’ explanation continues:
“And the team was extremely lucky. I just could not fathom having to face a widow or his kids. I just couldn’t do that. So I said ‘Nah, stay home, I can’t help you there anymore’.”
“You know, Grosjean’s a heck of a driver,” Haas said. “He has some really good days when I think he’s probably as good as any driver out there. He loves driving, and that’s his choice. I just don’t want to be part of the bad choice. I feel as lucky as he is to escape being killed. That was the luckiest day in the whole Haas F1 saga, that Grosjean managed to survive that, and relatively unscathed.
I’d hate to speculate that the reason Haas provided is a scapegoat, and the real excuse has something to do with money. But if that were true, then I’d rather he’d just been honest. This simply doesn’t track.
Nobody should turn a blind eye to what Grosjean went through, or what any driver endures in a serious accident. We should always be striving to improve safety and championing solutions that do, like the Halo. We shouldn’t romanticize the spectacle of danger, though we can also recognize that the sport we love will always be imbued with some degree of risk. That’s what the drivers accept when they get in their cars; that’s the reality Gene Haas funds as a team owner. If he doesn’t think he can do it for Grosjean anymore, I don’t see how he can justify doing it for anyone else.