If someone told you last season that Romain Grosjean would improve from the first-lap “nutcase” that he was eloquently dubbed by Mark Webber to a consistent and podium-finishing rising team leader, then you would most probably have laughed in denial. However, the Frenchman has so far done just that in a 2013 season which has proven to a be a major turning point in his Formula 1 career.
After returning to the sport last season with Lotus on the back of a highly dominant display of driving in the GP2 feeder category, where the Frenchman stormed to a combined six victories across the GP2 and GP2 Asia Series, one would have been forgiven for expecting his return to be short-lived. During his first full season in Formula 1, he became incredibly notorious for causing first lap shenanigans which usually involved other unsuspecting drivers. At Monaco he managed to squeeze Michael Schumacher into the retaining barrier, before then spinning and collecting Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber.
The 2012 season started with Romain Grosjean spiraling into retirement on the opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix, after the then-reigning GP2 Champion plummeted through the field on the opening lap and collided with the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. The previous day during qualifying he had amazed many by out-qualifying reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel by qualifying 3rd behind the McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. However, as was the case on numerous occasions that year, his hard work was all undone in the space of several corners.
In Malaysia for the second race weekend of the season, Romain Grosjean once again qualified competitively in 6th position. However, with heavy rain falling as the race began, the Frenchman caused mayhem at Turn 4 when he tapped the rear of Michael Schumacher. The two naturally spun but managed to continue circulating, however Romain Grosjean’s miserable start to the season continued when he spun into retirement on Lap 3.
Although Romain Grosjean managed to finish in the next three races at China, Bahrain and Spain, the remainder of the Frenchman’s return to Formula 1 was marred by numerous errors which usually occurred during the opening laps of a race. At Monaco he collided with both Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi before even managing to negotiate Turn 1, before then becoming the catalyst in an appalling first corner shunt at Spa-Francorchamps later in the season.
After once again managing to qualify within the top ten around the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Romain Grosjean squeezed the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton into the pit-wall when the lights went out at the start. The duo then violently collected the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the Sauber of Sergio Perez, with Grosjean’s Lotus only just avoiding the head of Alonso at the point of impact. The severity of the incident, coupled with the Frenchman’s previous encounters with the stewards throughout the season, ended with him being struck with a one-race ban for the Italian Grand Prix and a hefty €50,000 fine.
Upon returning to the sport after serving his ban, many were intrigued to see whether he’d changed his erratic driving style. At the Singapore Grand Prix, it seemed the Frenchman certainly had his tail between his legs, as he started 8th and eventually finished 7th. However, next time out the Frenchman was instantly propelled back into the headlines for all of the wrong reasons after collecting Mark Webber during an opening lap incident at Suzuka. Mark Webber was able to continue circulating and eventually finished 9th, however the Red Bull driver was extremely vocal afterwards with regards to Romain Grosjean’s continuous opening lap episodes.
“It’s frustrating. Maybe he needs another holiday.” Explained the Australian shortly after the race to the BBC. “I haven’t seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean.”
Romain Grosjean retired from two more races towards the end of the season at Abu Dhabi and Brazil, eventually ending the season 8th overall with 96 points scored. Although many expected the Frenchman to be replaced for the new season, he was eventually confirmed once again at Enstone alongside 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Many felt the decision to retain him was questionable, after such a torrid return to the sport.
However, after desperately striving to change his ways during the winter period which included help from a psychologist in a bid to assist him in overcoming his incident-prone trait, the Frenchman bounced back at the start of the 2013 season in consistent form. During the first four races at Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain he finished within the points including a podium finish once again at Bahrain. Despite a slight relapse [so to speak] at Monaco after a collision with Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean has so far managed to avoid a repeat of his opening lap notoriety this season.
At the German Grand Prix around the Nurburgring, Romain Grosjean finally began to shine once again behind the wheel of his Renault-powered Lotus, as he stormed to a competitive 3rd place behind eventual race winner Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. After starting from 5th position, the Frenchman enjoyed a highly competitive race which included leading five laps and proving a threat to Sebastian Vettel. The 27-year-old continued finishing within the points until Singapore, where a mechanical fault saw him frustratingly retire whilst running in the points after starting from a strong 3rd.
With Kimi Raikkonen officially silencing the many rumours-mills throughout the paddock in September with the confirmation of a return to Ferrari for 2014, Romain Grosjean’s performances finally began turning numerous heads within the paddock as he consistently began out-performing his Finnish team-mate. At both the Korean and Japanese Grands Prix he finished a strong 3rd, after leading the first half of the race around Suzuka due to an almighty start with saw him leapfrog from 4th to 1st at Turn 1.
After an incredibly difficult 2012 season, which saw Romain Grosjean’s continuation as a Formula 1 driver questioned on a regular basis much like Felipe Massa, the Frenchman has since turned his fortunes around after a relatively competitive 2013 season. He has consistently begun out-performing team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in recent races, firmly stating his intentions as the team leader once the Finn departs for Ferrari. Despite monetary issues circulating the Formula 1 paddock regarding Lotus, Romain Grosjean’s continuation as an Enstone driver has been dubbed a formality in recent days, with his recent run of form understandably assisting such negotiations.
Regardless of his incident-prone history, it’s undeniable that Romain Grosjean has the talent and speed to become a regular name at the sharp-end of the Formula 1 echelon. The same can be said for many drivers throughout the sport, including Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg, either of whom could well end up as his team-mate for 2014. With an announcement from Lotus imminent as the season draws to a conclusion, expect the Enstone-based outfit to remain a competitive force as the sport enters a new era, with Romain Grosjean undoubtedly a future race winner who has endured a curious roller-coaster of a ride since his return.
Picture(s) Copyright © Octane Photographic & Lotus F1 Team