Romain Grosjean out for season finale at Abu Dhabi; Pietro Fittipaldi remains in Haas car

Romain Grosjean Abu Dhabi
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The fiery crash in Bahrain might have been the last time in a Formula One car for Romain Grosjean as the Haas F1 driver revealed Sunday morning that he will miss the season finale at Abu Dhabi.

Grosjean announced the decision with a video posted to social media. Haas F1 later announced that test driver Pietro Fittipaldi will remain in the car after replacing Grosjean for Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain. The Associated Press reported that Grosjean would returning to his home in Switzerland to continue healing from his burns rather than attend the race.

“For my health and my safety, it’s better that I don’t take the risk to race in Abu Dhabi. It’s a very difficult decision, but it’s the best one for my future so hopefully I will work on what’s coming next, where am I going to go racing,” Grosjean said, adding with a smile. “Where am I going to go winning races.

“I would like to thank everyone for the messages and the support. It’s been incredible to see in a difficult time.”

The Frenchman suffered burns to his hands after being trapped for nearly 30 seconds in a fireball that engulfed his car after the opening-lap crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The impact with an Armco barrier split his car in half, and the halo device has been credited with saving Grosjean’s life.

Despite the wreck, Grosjean had said he still wanted to return for the Dec. 13 season finale at Abu Dhabi, and Haas F1 team principal Guenther Steiner said Grosjean still wanted to return for the Dec. 13 season finale at Abu Dhabi.

The race will mark Grosjean’s final race with the team and likely win Formula One, where virtually all of the seats are filled for next season.

In a statement, Steiner said he was “naturally very sorry that Romain will miss what was going to be his final race with Haas F1 team. But we are all in agreement that he has to take the best course of action regarding his treatment and recovery from last Sunday’s incident. Romain has shown exceptional bravery and amazing spirit over the last few days — we know how badly he wanted to be able to return to the cockpit of the VF-20 in Abu Dhabi. And we all would have loved to have been there, too.”

Haas F1 had announced in October that it would be moving on from Grosjean (who had driven for the team since its 2016 debut season) and teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Grosjean, 34, has 179 starts in an F1 career that began in 2009. He had seven podium finishes from 2012-15 (including six for Lotus F1 in 2013) but none since arriving at Haas. His best finish in 96 race for the team was a fourth place on July 1, 2018 in the Red Bull Ring in Austria.

“Romain believed in our Formula 1 project at the very start,” Steiner said in the statement. “He committed to drive for us before we’d even built a car. There is no doubting the determination and sheer effort he has put into helping us to achieve what we have as a young team in Formula 1. We will be forever grateful for that belief and commitment. It is those qualities, his drive and ambition, that I’m sure will aid him on his recovery.”

The American-based team owned by Gene Haas announced this week that Russian driver Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, son of legendary seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, will be its drivers next year.

Fittipaldi, a grandson of former F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi and former Hickory Motor Speedway champion, has been practicing and qualifying the past two days in place of Grosjean for Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain.

Grosjean, who reportedly has been considering rides in the NTT IndyCar Series and sports cars for 2021, has said if he were unable to race in Abu Dhabi, he would be calling all the F1 teams to try to do a preseason test for one last time in an F1 car. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said he would be willing to accommodate the request.

Steiner had said earlier in the week that the decision on whether Grosjean would make a final start with Haas F1 would be left largely up to the driver and his wife, Marion. “Between the two of them, they can find out if he’s ready or not,” Steiner said. “It’s much better the family decides than someone outside, because I could be biased to push too hard. I try to keep out of this making very difficult decisions. There are people qualified to see if he’s mentally ready or not.”

Grosjean told French broadcaster TF1 that he probably would need psychological help to deal with the crash’s aftermath because “I really saw death coming.” In a revelatory interview with Sky Sports, Grosjean provided a detailed blow-by-blow account of every move he made to exit the car.

“Sometimes we are close to death and been scared,” Grosjean, a father of three, told Martin Brundle. “This time, death for me is here. I named it Benoit. Don’t ask me why. I just had to put a name on it and call him Benoit.

“I don’t know if that moment allowed me to recover a bit, get my brain, try to find another solution. I thought about my kids and thought, “No, I cannot die today.’ For my kids, I can not die. I’ve got to see them.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).