Sakhir, Bahrain: Romain Grosjean told AFP he 'saw death' after he left hospital on Wednesday following his dramatic escape from a fiery high-speed crash in last weekend's Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
Haas driver Grosjean somehow wrenched himself free from his blazing car with just burns to his hands and a broken left foot after a collision with Daniil Kvyat on the first lap of Sunday's race, and was treated in a military hospital in Bahrain.
"I saw death too closely. You can't live that and be the same man," Grosjean told AFP.
The 34-year-old Frenchman was stuck in his car for nearly half a minute before getting out alive, largely thanks to the car's survival cell, his so-called 'halo' device.
He described to AFP the crash, which he said "was not the most violent" of his F1 career and the subsequent fire from which he managed to flee with minor injuries.
"I undid my seat belt right away and I tried to get out of the car, but I realised my helmet was hitting something," Grosjean said, his voice trembling.
"I sat back down, told myself that I was stuck and that I'll wait.
"But on my left, it was all orange and I realised that it was burning. I told myself: 'No time to wait, I'm going to try to get out on the right', but I couldn't. I couldn't get out on the left either.
"I thought: 'It can't end like this, not now'. I tried to get out again, but I couldn't, so I sat down and I saw death, not close up, but from too close ... It's a feeling that I wish on no-one."
- 'Changed my live forever' -Grosjean said it was by thinking of his three children while flames enveloped his vehicle that he found a way to extract himself.
"That's where I found the resources to pull out my blocked foot, to turn my head ... to put my hands up to hoist myself out knowing that they were going to burn, but that was okay," he said.
After being taken to a medical centre he began to shake with shock and pain, but he was able to "see familiar faces" and talk with wife, French TV presenter Marion Jolles Grosjean.
Grosjean said he is speaking to his regular sports psychologist to help with any mental problems that could arise from such a close brush with death.
"For now, I'm not having nightmares, bad thoughts, flashbacks or moments of fear, but that doesn't mean they're not going to come and that's why we're going to keep discussing it," he said
Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi - grandson of two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi - will make his F1 debut in place of Grosjean in this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix, also in Bahrain.
Grosjean said he hopes to return for the last GP of the 2020 season in Abu Dhabi next month, which could also be his last F1 race as Haas announced on Wednesday Michael Schumacher's son Mick will join Russian rookie Nikita Mazepin in a new lineup next year.
"The limits imposed on me for the future are not about fear of this happening another time but rather of never having to do this to my loved ones again," he said.
"A week ago, taking a year off seemed impossible. Today I tell myself that I will kitesurf, bike races, see my kids, have fun, drink wine. It will change my life forever."