F1 newcomer Romain Grosjean has insisted that he is ready and prepared to make his debut in the top flight in this weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia, after being drafted in to replace the underperforming Nelsinho Piquet.
Following a bitter war of words in the media between Piquet and Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore a fortnight ago, the Brazilian pre-empted his dismissal by the Régie
by jumping before he was pushed, labelling his former mentor and team principal as his 'executioner' [see separate story – click here
Whilst it was common knowledge within the paddock that GP2 Series front-runner Grosjean would be the man to fill the cockpit, the news was only officialised today [see separate story – click here
] – meaning the Swiss-born Frenchman will graduate from the F1 feeder series to the highest level around a circuit where this time last year he finished third in the feature race only to be shunted out of the lead of the sprint race the following day by an over-eager Luca Filippi.
“Of course I'm very excited,” he enthused of his new opportunity, “and I want to thank the team for giving me this chance. I started dreaming about being a Formula 1 driver when I was seven or eight-years-old, when I was watching the battles between Prost and Senna on television, so to make my debut in Valencia really is a dream come true.
“My goal has always been to become a Formula 1 driver, and to do that with a French team makes it even more special. Renault has supported me since 2006, and it was only with their help that I could afford to continue racing. There is maybe a bit more attention because people have been waiting for a French driver in a Renault, but I will do my best to show that they were right to believe in me.”
Affirming that his role as test and reserve driver for Renault F1 over the past two seasons has prepared him well for his bow – 'It has been really helpful as I've got to know everybody and seen how the team works; attending all the meetings and debriefs during the last six months will certainly help me make the most of this opportunity' – Grosjean was adamant that he was not cowed by the prospect of having Fernando Alonso alongside him in the sister R29 across the garage. During his 28 races for the team, Piquet succeeded in out-qualifying the 21-time grand prix-winner just once.
“He is a great champion – maybe the best driver in Formula 1,” mused Grosjean. “I'm looking forward to working with him for the rest of the season. We already get on well, and because he has so much experience I know there is a lot I can learn from him.
“I've tried to make my preparation as normal as possible, although I have been training my neck muscles more than usual because Formula 1 is more demanding than GP2 on this part of the body. I've also taken some holiday time during the summer break, to make sure I am fresh and 100 per cent ready for Valencia.
“It's a mix between a street course and a normal circuit, because in some places the track is narrow and tricky and in other places it's really wide with lots of run-off. It's not the easiest place to make your debut, but I've always liked street races and enjoy the atmosphere of being in the middle of a city.
“I've only driven the R29 in straight-line testing, so my first race will be a learning experience. It's difficult to set myself an objective, so my first priority will be to get comfortable with the car, build my confidence over the weekend and do the best job I can for the team.”