It is being speculated within the F1 paddock that Renault could be set to make its second driver change of the 2009 world championship campaign in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos next weekend – by replacing Romain Grosjean with home favourite and reserve driver Lucas di Grassi.
Grosjean was himself drafted in back in August to fill the cockpit of the #8 car following the mid-season sacking of Nelsinho Piquet, but in the five grands prix in which he has since competed, the young Swiss-born Frenchman has proven unable to crack the top ten on the grid – with a best starting slot of twelfth at Monza – and has taken the chequered flag no higher than 15th on race day, whilst over the same period team-mate Fernando Alonso has notched up a rostrum finish and 13 points. More often than not, the inaugural GP2 Asia Series Champion and former F3 Euroseries king has failed to break out of the initial Q1 qualifying phase.
Now, it appears, following the departure of his disgraced manager Flavio Briatore, the new top brass at Enstone are unconvinced the 23-year-old is the ideal candidate to partner Robert Kubica at the team in 2010, and German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
reports that the intention is to give di Grassi the opportunity to state his case too. The São Paulo native finished second in the main summer GP2 Series in 2007 for ART Grand Prix and third in both 2008 and 2009 – firstly with Campos and latterly Racing Engineering – and will join Renault and Grosjean in the French manufacturer's latest two-day F1 Roadshow in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this weekend.
Both drivers are set to thrill fans with a rubber-burning, tyre-squealing display of power at the wheel of last year's R28 around a specially-created, 600-metre circuit along Libertatii Boulevard in the city centre on Saturday and Sunday. di Grassi will preview the event with a short demonstration run in Pitesti on Friday (9 October).
“I always enjoy Renault's roadshows,” enthused the 25-year-old, “and the plans for this weekend sound great. It's always special to drive an F1 car on the streets of a city because you are so close to the public, and it creates a very special atmosphere in the city.”
“I'm really excited about this roadshow and looking forward to entertaining the fans with lots of donuts and burn-outs,” echoed Grosjean. “These events are all about bringing the fans close to the cars so they can see things that are not possible at a grand prix, so I hope that lots of fans will come and watch the show.”
Meanwhile, as it continues to reel from the blow dealt by the immediate departure of title sponsor ING and fellow backer Mutua Madrilena on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix over the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal, Renault can take some comfort from the fact that casual clothing brand Pepe Jeans has confirmed its intention to see through its agreement until the end of the year. The London-based company revealed in a statement that whilst it 'in no way condones' what happened, it accepts the FIA World Motor Sport Council's view that a small key group of team members was to blame for Piquet's deliberate crash, rather than Renault 'as a whole'.
It is believed that both French oil company Total and Russian mobile 'phone operator Megafon wish to increase their involvement with the team in 2010, though Hispanic organisation Universia is widely tipped to follow Alonso out of the exit door come season's end.