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The Romain riddle // Weighing up Grosjean's impact on Formula One this season

Published by Christine

When 2013 began, things were looking hopeful for Romain Grosjean. Three top ten finishes and a handful of points were followed up by a hard-fought podium and trophy in Bahrain. The faith that his team boss and manager Éric Boullier had put in him was being paid off and perhaps he could finally shake off the crash-happy image that dogged him since his F1 return. Momentum was curtailed after a suspension failure in Spain, and then the Monaco Grand Prix was next on the calendar. All Romain's hard work came crashing down. Literally.

Four crashes over one weekend, a race-ending incident with Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo, and a ten place grid penalty hanging over his head for the next F1 event were all that Grosjean walked away from the principality with. That, and the return of questions about his future in the sport. Where his Race of Champions victory and contract renewal had signalled a fresh start in F1, the Monaco weekend lifted up the carpet under which all his previous misdemeanours had been brushed.

As an often-fickle Grosjean fan, the collision with Ricciardo signalled an end to my fondness for the smiling Frenchman. At the time, I declared it was "time to switch allegiances" but a month on, I can't decide if I have been too harsh on a driver who is clearly trying, if not always succeeding. I assumed Lotus would be firing him any day now and bringing in another driver but perhaps they are also finding it difficult to pick a side.

Pros and cons

Grosjean at work, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Canada
Credit: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team

It's easy to sit back and disregard a driver because he crashes a lot. "Get him out," we yell, "he's taking up a seat!" But the truth of the matter is, Romain already has over a year's experience in the sport and with the team. In the current F1 climate, that is not something to be taken lightly. Those rookies that have made great starts to their careers have usually spent a full year being subbed into practice sessions. Those who have only one or two hour's of running under their belt take longer to get to grips with how things work.

You only have to look at Luca Badoer's super-sub(par) performance in a Ferrari to understand how difficult it is to be dropped into an F1 car at a moment's notice. Note also Jérôme D'Ambrosio's unspectacular achievements when he subbed for Grosjean last year.

Even something simple as a driver having performed at each and every track before can be a huge bonus for any team. Grosjean may have found his bogey circuit in Monaco, but his experience at Circuit of the Americas or the Korean International track may put his stock higher than any potential replacement.

The other question is, of course, who would replace him. There are a few test and reserve drivers that could be parachuted in to tide the team over, but there is no one in the wings that could make a huge splash mid-season. Considering Romain can get a podium when he puts his mind to it, there are question marks over leaving him until at least the end of the year, if a replacement would be just as inconsistent anyway.

The team game

Grosjean has the benefit of a manager that also runs the team. It's not clear exactly how much influence Boullier could have if those in charge really wanted Romain out the door, but Éric is definitely on his young protegé's side. Even after the embarrassment that was Monaco, Boullier remained confident that Grosjean could lift his game.

We need to cool him down and have a proper discussion when back in the factory... He did a great job over the winter to fix all the problems he had last year. But there is some frustration sometimes when he knows he can be fast. He can deliver some good results. He did it in Bahrain and he was on his way to do it in Barcelona, so it is just about not losing momentum and that he gets back on track.

- Éric Boullier, Team Principal, Lotus

Some of the team, at least, are behind him then. Grosjean's personality seems to fit well with the mechanics and engineers he works with, and there has never been any hint of a problem in the personnel stakes. It's simply when he is behind the wheel that the problems begin. Having a benchmark of a champion on a comeback across the garage was always going to be a challenge, but as it turns out, Romain and Kimi Räikkönen could almost be in separate teams, the amount of interaction and/or team-playing that goes on between them.

Although they've never seemed anything more than distant colleagues, Räikkönen himself could play a significant role in Grosjean's future. There's plenty of talk that Kimi could be on his way to another team, perhaps Red Bull, and that would leave another space at Lotus. Would the Enstone team want to start a season with two new faces, or might they stick with some familiarity in the form of the Frenchman, regardless of how scatty the driving may be.

From the outside looking in, I am questioning Grosjean's future with Lotus far more than the team are, but there's no doubt that each and every crash, penalty, and cross word with another driver, is a mark against a long and successful future in Formula One. The old saying goes that you can tame a fast driver but you can't teach speed. The trouble is deciding when the driver in question is untameable.

Thankfully for Romain, the last race in Canada was unspectacular from every angle. The Lotus team may have wanted more from the weekend in terms of points and pace, but with an unimpressive car, Grosjean kept his nose clean and finished a solid 13th to his teammate's 9th. That's after starting 29th as well. If he can continue that kind of trend (rather than the one from Monaco), start qualifying where he should be, keep his car out of the barriers (and out of other cars), then we may see better things from Romain in the future, and he may have more of an F1 future to show us them.