Romain Grosjean said he made peace with himself and was prepared to die as he battled to escape the Formula One fireball inferno which stunned the world.
Grosjean, 34, was back in the Sakhir paddock on Friday, just five days after his terrifying crash at last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.
The French driver suffered only minor burns to his hands and was released from the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital on Wednesday. His car penetrated a steel barrier at 137mph, split in two, and burst into flames during the most dramatic accident of recent F1 memory.
Recalling the terrifying 28 seconds he fought for his life, Grosjean, with both hands still in bandages, said: "When the car came to a stop, I opened my eyes and I undid my seatbelt straight away.
"It felt like something was touching my head, so I sat back down in the car and my first thought was to wait. I thought I was upside down against a wall and someone would come to help me.
"I wasn't even stressed, but then obviously I was not aware at the time there was a fire. I looked right, I looked left and I saw fire. I thought, I don't really have the time to wait here.
"I tried to go up a bit more on the right, and it didn't work. I try on the left and it doesn't work. I sat back down and thought about Niki Lauda's accident [at the Nurburgring in 1976] and that it couldn't end like this.
"But I tried again and I was still stuck. Then there is the less pleasant moment where my body starts to relax. I am in peace with myself and I am going to die.
"I thought which part is going to burn first? Is it the foot? Is it the hands? Is it going to be painful? It was a very, very strange feeling. Sometimes we are close to death, we are a bit scared. This time, death was here for me."
Grosjean said his mind turned to his three children, Simon, 7, Sacha, 5, and Camille, 2. His wife, Marion, who watched the terrifying events unfold on television at the family home in Geneva, has flown here to Bahrain to be with her husband.
Grosjean continued: "I thought about my kids and they cannot lose their dad today. I don't know why I did it, but I decided to turn my helmet on the left-hand side, and tried to twist my shoulder. That sort of worked but then I realised my foot was stuck in the car.
"I pulled as hard as I could on my left leg. The shoe stayed where it was but my foot came out of my shoe. My shoulder is going through, and I knew then I was going to jump out.
"Both my hands were in the fire. My gloves are red, and I see the left one is changing colour, starting to melt and turning black.
"I could feel the pain but also I feel the relief that I am out of the car. I jump out over the barrier, and I feel Dr Ian Roberts pulling on my overall. I know I am not on my own anymore, and there is someone with me."
In a moving moment, Grosjean was reunited with his rescuers, hugging medical car driver Alan Van Der Merwe, F1 British doctor Roberts – the first man on the scene – and the two marshals who put out the blaze. "Thank you for saving my life," he said.
Grosjean will not compete in this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix following the burns sustained in the accident. He will instead be replaced by Haas' reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi.
The Frenchman, who was already due to retire from the sport at the end of the season after being dropped by Haas, is hopeful he will be able to bow out with one final appearance at the season-concluding round in Abu Dhabi a week on Sunday.
A crash investigation has been launched by the FIA, with the governing body confirming earlier this week that it will take as many as two months before the findings are made public.
The sport is back in Bahrain for the penultimate round of the campaign. A different configuration, already scheduled before Grosjean's accident, is being used this weekend with a number of safety changes made to the circuit.
Two rows of tyres have been put in place at Turn 3, the scene of Grosjean's crash, while the damaged barrier has also been fully replaced. The tyre barrier at Turn 9 has increased in depth to four rows. The kerb between Turns 8 and 9 has also been removed after Lance Stroll was launched airborne by Daniil Kvyat in last Sunday's dramatic race.