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Romain Grosjean- A riddle, wrapped in a mystery and inside an enigma

Gaurab Sinha
ANALYST
Editor's Pick
2.78K   //    04 Nov 2014, 12:03 IST
Romain Grosjean

Mark Webber branded him a “first lap nut case”. “The championship was lost when Grosjean flew over my head” said Fernando Alonso in 2012 and at one point he was widely regarded as the “Crash Kid” of the Formula 1 paddock. Who would have guessed, a year later this guy would have been a wanted man of the paddock for all the right reasons. Romain Grosjean’s story in Formula 1 is just 3 and half seasons long, but it has all the makings of a potential movie script. Let us have a look at Grosjean’s racing endeavors till date.

The early years

Grosjean, who currently as trade, drives for the Lotus F1 Team partnering Venezuelan, Pastor Maldonado. Grosjean has been with the Enstone based team, which was previously known as Renault F1, after his 2005 French Formula Renault title. Since then, he has never looked back in his career with wins in almost every racing series he has entered.

His next major title was the 2007 Formula 3 Euro Series championship. He was also the winner of the inaugural GP2 Asia Series in 2008, the Asian spin-off version of the Formula 1’s main feeder series. His first season for ART Team in the actual GP2 Series, saw him take two victories and a strong 4th position in the points table, but he was never a major threat for the title challengers.

Surprise F1 promotion and then the subsequent demotion

To harness his skills and race craft even more, Grosjean opted to stay in GP2 for the year 2009. This was with a view that he will try to find a Formula 1 seat in 2010. The year saw him win the opening GP2 rounds and challenge for the championship lead, and his good form paid off as Renault F1 team, out of the blue, called him to replace Nelson Piquet Jr. for the last 7 races of the season. The gap was very wide to fill and with no proper winter testing, Grosjean struggled with the Renault R29, achieving a best result of 13th at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Nevertheless, he showed glimpses of speed on a few occasions in a very unreliable and a slow Renault car.  "I learnt an enormous amount this year, especially being team mate to Fernando [Alonso]" said Grosjean when he was asked about his F1 experience in 2009. Renault F1 Team, now under new management, opted not to renew Grosjean’s contract for the 2010 season, which meant his short stay in Formula 1 was over for the moment. Many regarded this as the end of Grosjean’s Formula 1 career, because of the fact that making comebacks in Formula 1 is a difficult thing to do, especially for a rookie driver with only 7 races worth of experience, zero points and no significant results to show for.

Back to square one

Now under new management himself, Grosjean had a pretty busy 2010 season. First he opted to drive in the inaugural FIA GT1 World Championship; a series of this stature are often referred as “graveyard” for Formula 1 drivers because of its nature of attracting retired and sacked F1 pilots. Nevertheless, he won two races in the series. He then returned back to GP2 for the final 4 races of season with the DAMS team.

He showcased decent pace and finished on the podium on two occasions. He also made his Le Mans 24 Hours debut, driving a Ford GT1. He and his co-drivers qualified a strong third in LMGT1 class,but were forced to retire from the race due to mechanical issues.  However, his most impressive performance came in the 2010 Auto GP series, which previously known as Euroseries 3000. Due to prior racing commitments, Grosjean could only compete in 8 out of the 12 rounds in the season, but he still finished 7 times on the podium whilst counting the four race-wins too.

This comfortably ensured him of the 2010 AutoGP title. Grosjean was then confirmed as the Pirelli’s new driver to test their new Formula 1 tyers in 2010. This allowed him to gain valuable experience about the new rubber, which the whole of Formula 1 grid would have raced with from the 2011 season.

Return to GP2 and come back to the Enstone squad

Grosjean permanently took over the 2011 DAMS seat for the 2011 GP2 and GP2 Asia series. The Asia series was cut short to only 2 rounds and 4 races; in which Grosjean took a win and a second place to ensure his second GP2 Asia series title.

By the penultimate race of the championship season, Grosjean comfortably sealed the GP2 series title whilst taking 1 pole, 5 third places and 5 race wins. This made him the first ever driver to hold both, Asian and the main GP2 title, at the same year. His main rivals in the championship battle were; fellow countryman and F1 colleague Jules Bianchi, another Frenchman Charles Pic, Swede Marcus Ericsson and former Caterham F1 driver, Giedo van der Garde. In 2011, he was also one of the test drivers for his former Renault F1 Team, which was now rebranded as Lotus F1. He competed and impressed in the two free practice outings he got.

Deserved return to Formula 1

With the blessings of his management team, Gravity Motorsports and fact that his performance in the lower categories where more than up the mark, the name Romain Grosjean was back in Formula 1 for 2012 F1 season. Lotus had signed him alongside another F1 comeback man, 2007 World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen.

The season opened strongly for Grosjean, with him qualifying a strong 3rd place on the grid at season opener Australian Grand Prix, while teammate Raikkonen couldn’t even make the top 10 cut. However Sunday, like many other Sunday afternoons that year, ended in tears for Grosjean. He retired because of a collision in the opening laps of the race.

More collisions

This trend continued that year with Grosjean getting involved in many first lap incidents. The most notable being his Monaco GP first corner crash where Grosjean, whilst trying to avoid Fernando Alonso’s sudden move to the left, collided with Michael Schumacher, and also his first corner t-boing accident with Mark Webber in Japan. However, the biggest black spot in Grosjean’s career came at the Belgium Grand Prix that year. He was involved in a multiple car pileup at the La source hairpin at the start of the race. It was deemed, and rightly so, that Grosjean was the guilty party in this pile up which saw Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Grosjean himself, spectacularly crashing out of the race.

He was handed a one race ban by the race stewards for causing a dangerous collision. After serving his ban, and most probably calming himself down, Lotus kept the faith in Grosjean; in his final races that year; he brought in some points for the team. Still the year had its positives, as he took three strong podium finishes and 96 points in total. He also had a chance to win a race at Valencia, before an alternator failure halted his challenge. His qualifying pace was always good and he often out-qualified Raikkonen easily.

Team retained him

Team boss Eric Boullier and Lotus F1 owners kept faith in their boy, and Grosjean was retained for the 2013 season. This was a surprise for some people in the paddock, but as the 2013 season progressed, Team Lotus were vindicated, and how. Initially struggling with the car’s balance, Grosjean had a very difficult start to the 2013 season that said; he still managed points and a 3rd place at Bahrain. However, as the German Grand Prix approached, we saw a new and a transformed Romain Grosjean.

Since Germany, he drove to the podium an impressive 5 times in 11 races, which included a strong second place finish at Austin, Texas. Grosjean showed some great defensive driving skills to keep a much faster Webber at bay for most of the race and take 2nd. Due to his form, in the final six races of the season, he had collected more points than any other driver in the paddock, expect Sebastian Vettel.

His drives in COTA (Circuit of the Americas), Buddh International Circuit and Suzuka were praised by many Formula 1 pundits all around the world. The real Romain Grosjean was unleashed to the world, and with a good car under his wings, he was making the most of the situation to earn maximum points and podiums for him, and for the team. The season saw him finish a strong 7th in the championship table with 132 points to his name. Because he had a fierce battle for 2nd place at the COTA with Grosjean, Webber actually praised Grosjean for his change in driving attitude and good performances that year. Indeed what difference does a year make?

2014 and the future

With high hopes, new regulations and new engines, Grosjean entered the 2014 season to challenge for race wins and the podiums like he was frequently pushing for in the last season. However, the gods’ of Formula 1 didn’t shine on the Lotus team this year. Problems with the new Renault turbo units and also with the ERS system saw both the Lotuses barely making it out of Q1 this season, and on top of that, Grosjean has retired in 6 races this year. Still he has bagged eight precious points for the team and he has also produced a strong qualifying performance of 5th place at the Spanish Grand Prix.

This lap is regarded as one of the best qualifying laps of the 2014 season. With podiums and points drying up for Grosjean, his frustration has grown with every mediocre result this year, and the fury from Grosjean has been obvious on many car-to-pit radio transmissions. This has led to the speculation that Grosjean might leave Lotus at the end of this season, with Sauber, Force India and McLaren still looking for drivers, teams are most certainly looking at him.

With former boss Eric Boullier now in charge at McLaren, it is speculated that Grosjean might be the dark horse for a race seat at Woking. Grosjean has an option to stay at Lotus for the 2015 season, and with Lotus securing a deal with Mercedes for engines next year, it might not be a bad idea. Whatever it may be, Grosjean has said that it is up to him to decide his Lotus future and he was recently quoted “I can leave Lotus at the end of the year” by the media. Not bad for a guy who, about 3 years ago was waiting for the phones to ring desperately and was working hard to get his career back on track.

He worked hard for a place in the team

Even though, the first race win in Formula 1 for Grosjean is still at least another winter away, the attitude and of course the driving skills have made one thing for certain; given a decent car this guy can produce some good results for any team. The story of Grosjean is particularly interesting because of the fight he has put on to rescue his Formula 1 career. Sure luck has also played a huge part.

However, Grosjean has had to earn that luck too, be it Gravity Motorsports or the Renault backing. Because F1 is a sport where people do not support you if you don’t have the talent, Grosjean has every right to enjoy his luck. Hard work, tenacity and determination has brought Grosjean’s career back on track. We have seen many drivers in the past who have lost their seat in F1 just after half or a full season and have struggled to even remotely get close to F1 again.

With the grid being ever so crowded and narrow, Grosjean can be a hope for those drivers who have lost their seat in F1 without showing their complete potential.

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Gaurab Sinha
ANALYST
A big Formula 1 buff and an ardent football fan. A proud supporter of McLaren F1 Team, Leeds UTD FC, Manchester City FC, Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber, Force India F1 Team, Chelsea, Liverpool and San Antonio Spurs.
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