Season Preview 2012: Grosjean's second chance

By on Saturday, February 11, 2012

It may come as a surprise for some of you to learn that with all of the fanfare surrounding the return of Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus actually has a second driver. While the focus will be on how the enigmatic Finn copes this year, Romain Grosjean is also returning to the sport, having been cast aside, like Raikkonen, after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009. It isn't often that a driver receives a second chance, let alone with the same team which decided that said driver isn't good enough. Nevertheless, Grosjean has an opportunity to prove himself.

2009 was not a happy time for Romain Grosjean...

It had all looked so promising for Grosjean during the middle of 2009. After a strong rookie GP2 campaign in 2008, he was leading the championship the following season when Flavio Briatore decided that Nelson Piquet Jr was no longer required at Renault. Less than a month later, Grosjean found himself as a rookie at a team in disarray that was falling apart around him. He was noted for his erratic driving, tendency to crash – including taking out eventual champion Jenson Button in Spa – and his apparent poor pace. Romain’s Empire was crumbling around him. With the benefit of hindsight, and the struggles of Felipe Massa in dealing with Fernando Alonso as a team mate, he coped relatively well in a collapsing team and his pace against the Spaniard was promising for a driver of his inexperience.

Grosjean seriously considered quitting racing, yet dominated the Auto GP championship in 2010 and, after a brief foray into GT1, returned to GP2 with DAMS, a team that was 10th in the championship and showing little signs of improving. Grosjean not only won the 2011 championship, but he dominated it and scored all of the team’s 89 points. The Frenchman also has a new, positive attitude which should serve him well this season. Back in 2009, he was this young, cocky upstart who believed the world centred around him. Now, he has a new found maturity while his approach towards the end of 2011 – when he took part in Friday practice sessions for Renault – particularly impressed mechanics and engineers who were not fond of the Frenchman in 2009.

Fast forward two years and Grosjean is back at the team that unceremoniously dumped him, albeit under a different moniker and management. Having a fellow Frenchman – and manager – as team principal will help to assure Grosjean of his position within the team, while a full pre-season testing programme will ensure that he is up to speed by the Australian Grand Prix.

Grosjean is impressed by the Lotus E20

It’s difficult to know what to expect of Grosjean. On one hand, you have a driver who has Formula One experience, vast GP2 knowledge and is a very capable racing driver. Then again, he started seven races for a dire Renault team and has been out of the sport for two years, having never raced an F1 car on most of this year’s circuits. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to refer to Grosjean as a rookie, even if technically he is not. Understanding the nature of the Pirelli tyres will be crucial, even if his GP2 year on Pirellis and time spent as a test driver for the Italian company will help. Furthermore, working in the shadows of Kimi Raikkonen may well be a help, rather than a hindrance, for Grosjean. Much like Nico Rosberg in 2010, he is in a win-win situation. Lose out to Raikkonen – but do so with dignity – then that would be totally acceptable. Beat him, well…

Even at this early stage of the season, the signs are promising for Grosjean. After just one test, the Frenchman has commented that he and Raikkonen share similar driving styles and set-ups, something that should be rather useful. Observers at Jerez have not just been impressed with the E20, but the manner in which Grosjean is driving it. There have been a few lock-ups and wobbly moments under braking, but he looks committed, comfortable and dealing with minor oversteer in the quick sections.

Grosjean only drove the Renault R31 at the end of the season – when it had slipped back into a congested midfield – but notes that the E20 is ‘handling better than it was last year’. Testing programs are notoriously difficult to decipher, but there was an atmosphere of positivity at Lotus. Not only did Grosjean set a quick lap time, but long runs were also promising.

Lotus’s aim will be to finish fourth in the championship this season, a high target considering their catastrophic fall in 2011. Nevertheless, while the spotlight will be on Kimi Raikkonen, watch out for Romain Grosjean. Not only is he seriously quick, but he knows how to develop a car and possesses a maturity that several drivers will never achieve.

Romain's back and he's looking to rebuild his empire. Watch out.

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