F1 » Romain Grosjean
Romain Grosjean is one of the most promising young French motor sport talents to emerge in recent years but, after a disappointing half-season in the top flight, it remains to be seen if his career can recover to achieve the heights it once promised.
He began his career in 2000 and like most it was in karts. He graduated from the ‘Junior’ category to Formula ICA karts for his second season in 2001, and competed in the French championship for the next three seasons, as well as completing Formula A races in 2002. He continued in Formula ICA in 2003, combining this with the start of his car racing career, which got off to a great start. Indeed he dominated the Swiss Formula Renault 1600 championship, taking ten wins from ten races and not surprisingly bagged the title with ease.
From there he moved up to Formula Renault 2.0 and competed in both the French and European championships – doing partial seasons in Europe and the full French series in both 2004 and 2005. After finishing as second best rookie in the 2004 French championship, including one win and three podiums, the Frenchman won the title with ten wins the following year. He also took two podiums on his forays into the European series during this time.
From there he graduated to Formula 3, finishing 13th in the F3 Euro Series in his first season, which included two wins during the British F3 Championship rounds on home territory in Pau, France. For 2007, he secured a position with ASM, and took an impressive title in a closely fought series, notching up 106 points as well as securing a total of six wins, six podiums and four pole positions.
Stepping up to GP2 in 2008 with front-running outfit ART Grand Prix, a stunning run in the inaugural winter-time Asia Series yielded four victories from ten starts and a comfortable title triumph – and high expectations of a repeat performance in the main championship. However, despite two more wins and four further rostrum finishes, the campaign was marred by a number of ‘rookie’ errors that consigned him to just fourth spot in the final drivers’ standings – and meant a second year in the F1 feeder formula beckoned in 2009.
Moving camps from ART to defending series champions Barwa Addax (formerly Campos) saw the Swiss-born ace get off to a flying start, with a brace of victories and a runner-up spot from the opening three encounters. However, in the following nine races, and following a scary accident at Monaco, Grosjean would not finish any higher than fourth, despite showing prodigious raw pace and potential. Nonetheless, that promise had been noticed and nurtured by Renault, who had signed Romain up to its RDD driver development scheme several years earlier and appointed him as the F1 operation’s official test driver in early 2008.
However, when Flavio Briatore’s patience with Nelsinho Piquet finally ran out midway through 2009, Grosjean found himself a fully-fledged grand prix driver, making his debut alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso in the European Grand Prix in Valencia. As with others joining the fray midway through a campaign marked by a ban on in-season testing, however, the Frenchman was on a hiding to nothing, and struggled to match even Piquet Jr's 'achievements', taking a best finish of 13th. Grosjean lacked nothing in terms of pace, as would have been expected, but his racecraft needed honing and there were too many accidents - including one in Singapore GP practice at the very spot where his predecessor sparked the 'Crash-gate' furore.
Cast aside in favour of Russia's Vitaly Petrov - a former Barwa Addax team-mate - Grosjean's future looked uncertain and, indeed, he appeared destined for a spell in GT racing before linking up with DAMS to contest the final two-thirds of the burgeoning AutoGP series. Incredibly, despite missing two races, he still did enough to be crowned champion and, despite being linked to a possible return to Renault as its 'third driver', he opted to remain with DAMS for another crack at GP2.
That move, in part inspired by his management team at Gravity Sports, proved to be the right one, as Grosjean claimed both the truncated Asia Series and the full summer championship, the latter at a canter.
Wrapping up the title with a round to spare allowed Grosjean to take part in a handful of Friday morning F1 practice sessions before the end of the season, and his competent performances emphasised his candidature for a full-time return. As it was, Grosjean had to wait until Kimi Raikkonen had been signed to lead the renamed Lotus F1 team, but his place was confirmed just before Christmas, as the Enstone squad opted for an all-new line-up to replace its various 2011 pairings.
With Eric Boullier at the helm, Grosjean had a more sympathetic boss than he had during his previous spell in the top flight, but his return continued to provide the Frenchman with something of a rollercoaster ride. He started brightly by qualifying on row two in Australia, but the race was marred by the sort of early incident that would go on to punctuate his year. Although he posted two podium finishes in the first seven rounds, his year will be remembered more for the scrapes he found himself in, most notably the first corner accident he triggered at Spa, which ultimately led to him being benched by the FIA for the following weekend at Monza. When he returned, Grosjean appeared to have lost a degree of confidence and, trying not to get involved in any more controversy, wasn’t quite the racer he had been previously.
Eighth in the points was a decent return, but the jury remains out and he wasn't confirmed for 2013 until mid-December, one day after taking a surprise win in the annual Race of Champions event in Thailand.