Newly-crowned GP2 Series champion Romain Grosjean has been offered an early chance to stake a claim to an F1 seat next season after Renault confirmed that it would run him in opening free practice in both Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
The Franco-Swiss driver has been out of the top flight after an abortive part-season as replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr in 2009, spending the time since then in sportscars and AutoGP before returning full-time to GP2 with DAMS this season. Although not as dominant as previous champion Pastor Maldonado - who joined runner-up Sergio Perez in graduating to F1 this season - Grosjean nevertheless clinched the title with a round to spare and has been linked to a possible F1 return for much of the year, thanks in part to his management including Renault team boss Eric Boullier.
Although yet to whittle down its list of candidates for 2012 - which includes Robert Kubica and current drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna as well as Grosjean - Renault has confirmed that the double GP2 Asia champion will get a couple of outings before the end of the year, replacing Senna in FP1 at Yas Marina and Petrov at Interlagos.
“Romain has been part of the LRGP family since February and we feel this is an appropriate time to give him a chance to drive for us during two free practice sessions," Boullier commented, "Putting his skills to the test in two consecutive Friday sessions will offer him precious experience of driving the R31 during a race weekend and will make him a better driver.
"I'm sure that his feedback will be useful for the team, especially as he raced in F1 only two years ago. Since then, he has improved in every area and I'm sure he'll do a good job for us. We will be able to do this without compromising our usual Friday set-up work in any way and, as of FP2 at both race weekends, Bruno and Vitaly will return to their cars.”
Despite being linked to a possible race return as soon as he clinched the GP2 crown, Grosjean has always maintained that he was focused on sorting a good seat for 2012, and sees the opportunity being afford to him in Abu Dhabi and Brazil as a chance to display his abilities to the entire F1 field.
“I am delighted to be given this opportunity and I feel very excited about driving the R31 for the first time during a grand prix weekend," he confirmed, "It will be a big responsibility for me and my priority will be to do the best job I can for the team.
"I know all the team's mechanics and engineers, am familiar with the methodology and processes and I know the two tracks I'll be testing on. I also feel that the racing I did in the GP2 Series this year will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. Finally, I did some F1 testing for Pirelli during the winter at the beginning of this year, so the tyres shouldn't be too alien to me.
"I believe all the right elements are in place to make this a great experience, and I don't feel too much pressure going into this. My aim, of course, will be to help Lotus Renault GP prepare for the race weekends, to offer the best feedback I can and to be reliable and consistent. Getting an opportunity like this is always a massive boost in a driver's career and I'll make sure I make the most of the chance I've been given.”