It was very well documented last season that Romain Grosjean had a knack of not finishing races. His record stood at 7 non finishes in 19 races (not 20 races because he was banned for Monza, Italy) with a technical finish in Japan. He got a technical finish because he completed over 90% of the race. However, his car did not cross the finish line so for me that means you have not finished the race subsequently leading his tally to be 8 non finishes in my eyes.
There is no doubting that the Frenchman has race pace. When he is able to bring his car round to the finish he is almost always in the points. He even managed three podiums in the 2012 season and two podiums so far in the 2013 season in Bahrain and Germany. He looked set to at least get third place in Hungary last weekend but an unfortunate drive through penalty cost him badly.
Yet despite the talent he has he didn’t get past the 5th lap in 5 of his races last season. That is a shocking statistic. The only person who matched him in non finishes was Michael Schumacher and we all know he wasn’t the same Schumacher that dominated the sport years before. Grosjean’s early exits were usually down to stupid inexperienced blunders. He had 7 first lap crashes in his first 12 races but not all of those crashes proved to be the end of the race for him. His crash with Alonso at Spa in Belgium was a wake up call not only just to Grosjean but to all of Formula One. When you come within centimeters of killing another human being then things need to change. This wasn’t the old days of Formula One where near death incidents were common. Safety is a priority now and something had to change.
Grosjean returned, after a one race ban, to the Singapore Grand Prix. He finished 7th with the usual suspects of Vettel, Button and Alonso taking the podium spots. An incident free race for the young Frenchman. Maybe we were seeing a different driver. Maybe.
How quickly that thought left our minds. At the Japanese Grand Prix, on a first lap that saw utter chaos, Grosjean, once more true to form hit the Red Bull of Mark Webber. Luckily both cars managed to get round to the pits and carry on the race but Grosjean was immediately handed a 10 second stop and go penalty. Subsequently the team chose to retire the car after 51 laps. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner wasn’t happy afterwards stating: ‘He needs to really talk to himself, or the team needs to talk to him, because not only is it dangerous for others, but he has cost himself and his team a colossal amount of points – together with the innocent victims that he has collected en route.’
The slightest of excuses for Romain could be that it was genuinely a chaotic first lap. With world class drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg crashing out on the very first corner you could argue it was just a very difficult moment as a racing driver.
Two races later and Grosjean is involved in a three person crash with Sergio Perez and Mark Webber. Perez had left the track and on his return Grosjean clipped the back of him going around the corner which resulted in Webber being unable to slow down quick enough and hitting Grosjean. Webber and Grosjean’s races over. Perez was penalized but yet again Grosjean was involved in a crash.
You guessed what happened in the final race of the season two races later. A Grosjean early exit. This time he did not crash into anybody, phew! In tricky conditions he spun off and went straight into the barrier ending his race on lap 5.
He finished the season somehow in 8th position. Ahead of the talented Nico Rosberg who had less than half the amount of retirements Grosjean had. So how did Grosjean beat Rosberg without finishing 5 extra races than him. Well this is the before mentioned race pace and talent that the boy has. Imagine what he could achieve if he consistently finished races.
Lotus obviously saw this as a fact because they chose to keep him on for the 2013 season. They know he has the potential for greatness.
So welcome the 2013 season and welcome a new Romain Grosjean?
The first four races showed promise. Four finishes, four points finishes and even a podium thrown in there for good measure. The fifth race proved to be the first retirement of the season for Grosjean. But this time there was no dramatic crash. A suspension failure on lap 9 ending his race. But was this a bad omen?
The very next race in Monaco we got our answer. Romain crashed three times during the practice sessions and to great surprise he crashed in the race into Daniel Ricciardo ending both drivers races. The next race in Canada was a tough one for him, starting last on the grid he fought all the way up to 8th position but had to pit late on due to tyre wear and finished a respectable 13th considering the conditions. But then the British Grand Prix. The repeat offender repeats once again. First lap and Grosjean crashes into Webber’s car damaging the front wing. In an utterly remarkable race filled with incidents including tire explosions, Grosjean retired the car on the very last lap with severe front wing damage.
The following races in Germany and Hungary have seen a return to better form for Grosjean, finishing 3rd and 6th. So which Romain Grosjean will turn up for the remainder of the season. The talented quick Lotus driver who is able to beat the best with a good car set-up. Or the inexperienced boy who doesn’t have sufficient awareness to avoid a crash.
Every F1 fan, for safety reasons and to be able to watch quality racing, will want the real Romain Grosjean to turn up. The man who can challenge anybody on his day. I believe he can be a World Champion one day, after years in F1 he will no longer be an inexperienced driver. He just needs to be extremely careful because the more retirements he has the less patience Lotus or any other team in F1 will give him. There are talented drivers waiting to steal a seat in F1 and in the heat of the moment on race day Grosjean needs to realize that a team will hire a consistent points finisher rather than a driver with exciting overtakes.
To conclude, is Romain Grosjean a changed man? Well, I don’t think so. You can’t click your fingers and suddenly gain years of experience in F1 racing but slowly and steadily (an option Grosjean should adopt) he will learn and his retirements and dramatic crashes will be a thing of the past. He is obviously a fantastic driver, his record speaks for itself. He doesn’t need to improve his race pace, so once he can eradicate this silly bit of nonsense then he can achieve a World Championship or maybe two, who knows what the future holds for the Frenchman.