Romain Grosjean has been one of the major talking points of 2012. Not many drivers get a ‘second chance’ in Formula 1, so for Grosjean to have taken this chance and to deliver some great results is a very positive story. However, he has had one main weakness in 2012, and it has been somewhat of a surprise.
Before the season started, most thought it may have been competing against his illustrious teammate Kimi Räikkönen, or perhaps adjusting to Formula 1 after more than two years on the sidelines. As it turned out, his biggest hurdle has been getting clean starts. In Australia, Malaysia and Monaco, he was involved in first lap contact, and for none of them you could say he was blameless. But when he survives the first few laps, he has been a revelation, with two podiums already. In fact, Grosjean has the best average finishing position of anyone in the field. With finishes of 6th, 3rd, 4th and 2nd, his average is 3.75, considerably ahead of Hamilton on 4.43. On the other hand, he is the only driver in the top 17 of the championship standings to have three DNFs. So as such, he really is living up to the maxim of ‘hero or zero’.
His qualifying pace has been particularly strong as well. Only Hamilton, Webber and Rosberg have a better average grid slot, and Romain has made it into Q3 in every race. His lap in Melbourne, to qualify 3rd in his return to the sport, was particularly impressive. He has also outqualified Räikkönen five times out of seven. So it appears clear that he has a particularly consistent and fast pace over both one lap and a race. He showed in Canada he can manage his tyres well as well. So while it must be frustrating for Lotus that he has had some missed opportunities in 2o12, they must be very happy with his potential.
Perhaps his biggest achievement is his performance relative to Räikkönen. Despite the aforementioned DNFs, he only has two points fewer than Kimi, and Romain seems to be pulling further ahead in recent races. Whilst Räikkönen has superior racecraft to Grosjean, Grosjean has shown that this will be an interesting intra-team battle to watch for the rest of the season. In fact, whilst it seemed fairly certain that Räikkönen would be the one to win Lotus’ first race – should they win one – it’s hard to look past Grosjean as a winner sooner rather than later.
With Valencia being the next race, the track at which Grosjean made his debut in 2009, it’s hard to look past him as the favourite to be the eighth winner in eight races.