By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Haas F1 Team reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi is set to make his Formula One debut at the Sakhir Grand Prix, filling in the for Romain Grosjean, who is recovering from burns sustained at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
As a result of Monday’s announcement, Fittipaldi – grandson of two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi – will become the first third-generation driver to compete at a grand prix event.
The 24-year-old Miami-born Brazilian has a unique racing background, which includes winning the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 championship, where he claimed six race victories, 10 podiums and a series-record 10 poles. In 2018, he made six starts in the NTT IndyCar Series for Dale Coyne Racing, recording a best result of ninth at Portland International Raceway. He signed on as a test driver for Haas late in 2018, and has made a total of seven appearances, the last of which came at Abu Dhabi a year ago. He also spent 2019 competing in DTM. Additionally, it will be the first F1 start for the Brazilian family since Christian Fittipaldi at Adelaide in 1994.
Although it’s not the greatest circumstances to get such opportunity, Fittipaldi is looking forward of making his F1 grand prix debut at Bahrain’s outer circuit.
“I’m happy Romain is safe and healthy,” said Fittipaldi. “We’re all very happy his injuries are relatively minor after such a huge accident.
“Obviously, it’s not an ideal set of circumstances to get my first opportunity to compete in Formula 1, but I’m extremely grateful to Gene Haas and Guenther Steiner for their faith in putting me behind the wheel this weekend.
“I’ve been with the team a lot this season, both trackside and working on simulator sessions, so I’m familiar with the team’s operating procedures on a grand prix weekend. It’s going to be exciting to make my first career start in Formula 1 – I’ll be giving it my all and I look forward to starting in free practice on Friday in Bahrain.”
Grosjean’s scary shunt left the sport and motorsports as a whole breathless, but were relieved he’s recovering with the latest medical update indicating he’ll be discharged from Bahrain Defence Force Hospital on Tuesday.
On the opening lap, Grosjean tried avoiding running into other cars at the entry of Turn 3, leading him to move towards the right. The move led to Daniil Kvyat clipping the right rear of Grosjean’s car, sending No. 8 Haas Ferrari straight into the armco barrier at speeds over 137 mph.
The colossal impact split the car in half, resulting in a fireball as the race was immediately red flagged. Fortunately, the long-time veteran got out of the car over 30 seconds after the accident.
With assistance from the corner marshals, Dr. Ian Roberts, and Alan van der Mwere, Grosjean would be taken to the hospital where he stayed overnight for treatment burns on the back of both hands. X-rays were also performed and it came back negative from fractures.
Grosjean would post a video on his social media pages, thanking everyone for their love and support on a real difficult time period in his life.
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from his video was him stating the halo, of which he was initially against when the FIA mandated them in 2018, saved his life as it done its job from preventing a tragic outcome similar to Francois Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg in the 1970s.
Time will tell if Grosjean will be back in an F1 car as this season is his last with the American based team he’s been with since its inception in 2016.
Team Principal Gunether Steiner said it was in the best interest that Grosjean should skip out at least this weekend and the transition of putting Fittipaldi in the car was “pretty easy.”
“Pietro will drive the VF-20 and he’s familiar with us having been around the team for the past two seasons as a test and reserve driver,” said Steiner. “It’s the right thing to do and it’s obviously a good opportunity for him. He’s been patient and was always prepared for this opportunity – and now it has come. That’s why we want him in the car and I’m sure he’ll do a good job. It’s very demanding being called in at the last minute, but as I said, I think it’s the right thing to do for Haas F1 Team.”
The Sakhir Grand Prix will mark the penultimate round of the 2020 championship as the lights go out on Sunday at 12:10 p.m. EST on ESPN2 and F1TV.