How do you solve a problem like Grosjean?

By on Sunday, October 7, 2012

The start of the Belgian Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean’s indiscretion at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix is the latest in a long list of troubles for the Frenchman this season.  Grosjean has been involved in a first lap incident with a rival in eight of this year’s races and it has got beyond a joke.

Whilst it would be grossly unfair to apportion full blame to Grosjean to every incident he has been involved in, it does take two to tango. Clashes with Pastor Maldonado in Australia and Sergio Perez in Spain were racing incidents, while his crash in Monaco was a little unfortunate rather than anything more.

The start of the Belgian Grand Prix was his personal nadir, chastised for eliminating several rivals in spectacular and dangerous fashion. While his actual move on Hamilton wasn’t hugely appalling, the ramifications were and it was another case of Grosjean completely misjudging the position of cars surrounding him.

If Spa was dangerous, then his actions at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix were just comically clumsy, his contact with Webber was like a move in a video game. “I was watching Sergio [Perez] on my left to make sure there was no contact with him. There was quite a big speed difference between me and Mark [Webber] as I came into the first corner which caught me by surprise and we collided. It was a stupid mistake” It certainly was, and Webber pulled no punches in his opinion of Grosjean.

“I haven't obviously seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean”, said the Australian. “The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race. It makes it frustrating because a few big guys probably suffered from that and maybe he needs another holiday. He needs to have a look at himself, it was completely his fault. How many mistakes can you make, how many times can you make the same error? First-lap incidents... yeah... it's quite embarrassing at this level for him.”

Grosjean didn't even make Ste Devote in Monaco

And that’s the crux of the issue. If you look at Grosjean’s season, every incident has been on the first or second lap. Beyond that point, he stays calm and usually races to a strong position.

You cannot doubt Grosjean’s outright speed, for he has outqualified Kimi Raikkonen in 2012 more often than not. He has also taken three podium places and was robbed of another one in Valencia when his alternator failed. Grosjean’s career path to F1 has been well documented, but titles in Formula Three, GP2  Asia, AutoGP and GP2 show that Grosjean, on pace, deserves an F1 seat.

However, even before his re-entry in Formula One at the start of the year, doubts were raised over the Frenchman’s racecraft. His driving style in junior formulae wasn’t met with universal approval, particularly in Valencia last year where an opportunistic move left him being criticised by much of the GP2 paddock. As we wrote in the season preview, ‘If he can curb his erratic nature, he can match Kimi’.

But therein lies a problem. Grosjean has got to a stage where his reputation precedes him. It’s a little like when Luis Suarez falls over in the penalty box: he is no longer given the benefit of the doubt. If Grosjean is involved in a collision, he is automatically apportioned more than fifty percent of the blame, even when it isn’t justified. Current events paint past events in a different light, which is unfair to do. It’s playing on his mind; in trying to avoid collisions, it’s as if they happen more naturally – a little like it did with Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa last season.

Grosjean needs to iron out mistakes. Photo credit: Lotus F1 Team

So what’s the solution? Lotus will not want to dispense with Romain Grosjean, as it’s undoubtedly a more realistic task to cut out the mistakes in a fast driver than improve the speed of a slower one. Would more time on the side lines help? Probably not. Grosjean’s already watched someone else driving his car for a race weekend, said the experience has helped and subsequently been involved in another start collision. He’s also sat down with the his team principal and manager Eric Bouiller to discuss his driving style, while we don’t know to what extent Grosjean’s antics have been discussed in driver briefings. What about a driver coach? Almost all other sports employ people to help improve a sportsman, yet Formula One appears not to have followed suit, save for Alex Wurz at Williams. It was reported earlier in the season that Grosjean turned down an approach from Sir Jackie Stewart to help him fine tune his racecraft, but who else than a former Formula One driver would be best suited to iron out problems?

Grosjean isn’t the pariah that many would like to think he is, but he isn’t learning from mistakes and we’re now at the three-quarters mark of the season. He has the speed to be a Formula One race winner and possibly a champion. So, Romain and Lotus, it’s over to you to ensure Grosjean’s reputation is more than just shattered pieces of carbon fibre, lost championship points and a litany of angry rivals.

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