How Do You Solve a Problem Like Romain Grosjean?

Japanese Grand Prix Weekend Round Up #2

Grosjean pictured NOT hitting somebody at the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix [Courtesy of Wikipedia]

If there is one consistent theme to take from this year’s topsy-turvy Formula 1 season, it’s that Romain Grosjean is probably going to hit somebody on the opening lap. It’s the regular occurrences of these early race incidents that led a furious Mark Webber to brand RoGro a “first-lap nutcase” after being punted out of the Japanese Grand Prix by the errant Lotus driver.

The problem for Grosjean is the sheer volume of incidents he has been involved in, though not necessarily caused, throughout the course of the season so far. In fact Sunday’s collision with Webber marked the eighth episode of Romain getting tangled up with other drivers. To recap, the others have included:

  1. Australian Grand Prix – Grosjean and other serial offender Pastor Maldonado tag on the second lap. RoGro later retires.
  2. Malaysian Grand Prix – Collides with Michael Schumacher on opening lap, retiring on lap four after another spin.
  3. Spanish Grand Prix – First-lap contact causes Sergio Perez a puncture, putting the Spanish Sauber driver out of the race.
  4. Monaco Grand Prix – Violent first corner crash sees Grosjean take out Kamui Kobayashi, and Maldonado (again).
  5. British Grand Prix – This time, contact with Paul Di Resta sees the British driver retire due to a puncture from Grosjean’s front wing.
  6. German Grand Prix – Runs wide at the hairpin on the first lap, picking up a puncture. Later collides with Bruno Senna.
  7. Belgian Grand Prix – Blamed for huge opening lap first-corner crash, putting Alonso, Hamilton and Kobayashi out the race. Receives a one race ban for the Italian Grand Prix from the stewards for dangerous driving.
  8. Japanese Grand Prix – Rams the side of Mark Webber, again at the first corner of the first lap. Spotting the pattern yet?

The unfortunate thing for Grosjean is that if you watch a lot of the incidents above, like on this handy BBC Sport showcase, you realise that many of the collisions aren’t typically malicious nor deliberate. The vast majority of them result from RoGro getting overly excited, or placing the car badly on the track, resulting in accidental contact. Even more unfortunate, is that this is probably a harder trait for Romain and the Lotus F1 team to overcome.

Were it simply a case of a driver like Pastor Maldonado, or Juan Pablo Montoya for instance, who are/were often deliberately aggressive when

causing collisions, a stern talking to from the team principal should be enough to calm them down. But with Grosjean, the problems are almost more subconscious and beyond his actual control. I’m not an F1 driver, the highest form of motorsport I competed in was Radio Control cars when I was young. But even that taught me how important getting the first corner right was, and how big the pre-race pressure could be even racing a 1/10th scale model around a warehouse in Middlesbrough. RoGro is seemingly struggling to cope with this at motorsport’s highest echelon.

More worryingly is the fact Romain has a history of such incidents in Formula 1. His Grand Prix debut at the 2009 European race in Valencia is probably obscured from history’s gaze, by the hilarious/tragic return of Luca Badoer after ten years as a test driver. Badoer had a torrid time substituting at Ferrari for the injured Felipe Massa, and qualified last, some 2.5 seconds behind his team mate Raikkonen. EngageSportMode found this very amusing at the time. Come Sunday, Badoer made an impressive start, climbing to 14th before being hit by….yeah, you’ve guessed it…Romain Grosjean in his first F1 race for Renault.

The following 2009 round in Belgium perhaps gave a foretelling of the future; Grosjean rammed Jenson Button’s Brawn on the opening lap, putting them both out of the race. Belgium would be the only round where Button failed to score points on this run to his Drivers’ World Championship. Following the Belgium Grand Prix, Grosjean was involved in an another opening lap incident at the Italian Grand Prix, which saw him damage his car. He managed to survive the rest of the 2009 season relatively unscathed, but found himself without an F1 seat for 2010.

Clearly the first lap is a major hurdle for Romain, and one which doesn’t seem to be diminishing with the passage of time. I would imagine that the further criticism and accusations only make a collision more likely, not less this weekend in Korea. Unless of course he can get pole position; that might be the safest bet for everyone.

Earlier in the week I discussed Lewis Hamilton throwing away his talent by seemingly not being bothered enough. With Grosjean, his talent is being wasted because he is almost too eager to do well, and is seemingly placing an inordinate amount of pressure on himself. He clearly has ability, he won the 2011 GP2 and GP2 Asia championships with consummate ease. Prior to this, in 2010, he won the Auto GP championship by some margin, despite missing the first four of a twelve race calendar. This is on top of a number of wins and titles picked up in lower racing classes.

Looking back at what Grosjean has done this season, it’s very easy to see why Webber and other drivers have labelled him a menace. He has cost both them, and himself, points and positions throughout the course of the year. Ironically, when he hasn’t been making contact, Grosjean has used the speed of the Lotus-Renault to collect seven points finishes, including three podiums. With Kimi Raikkonen sitting third in the Drivers’ Championship, the potential of the car is there for all to see. Had Romain managed to convert his talent, and the Lotus-Renault’s speed, into results then the team could easily be challenging Ferrari for third in the Constructors’ Championship.

Personally, I hope RoGro manages to “sort his shit out” as Jenson Button so eloquently put it. Formula 1 has tolerated drivers of much lower potential than Grosjean, but he desperately needs to keep his nose clean and rack up some points to cling onto an F1 driver. If not, Le Mans style endurance racing might be his best bet; that way someone else can do the initial stint, getting that tricky first corner out of the way.

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