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

Romain Grosjean Abu Dhabi
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
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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 Grosejan (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.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.