21 March 2011
Grosjean's "personal challenge" to win GP2
Claiming his second G2 Asia series title confirmed Romain Grosjean as one of the feeder series' brightest talents. But after his failed stint in F1 in 2009, where next for the Frenchman?
Romain Grosjean's weekend at GP2 Asia's Imola event could neatly sum up the Frenchman's career: a display of dazzling driving brilliance one day, followed by a more frustrating and ultimately unrewarding experience the next. But at least he came out of it with the 2011 GP2 Asia title; his second, having won the inaugural season in 2008.
"It sounds pretty good," Grosjean admitted when asked how it felt to be champion again for a second time in the series. "The Asia series' level this year was really high ... It was a good benchmark for everyone."
Grosjean won the title thanks to his dominant win from pole in the Imola feature race, which put him ahead in the points: Grosjean duly won the title when his only rival Jules Bianchi retired from the sprint race after a multi-car shunt. But if Bianchi hadn't suffered that misfortune, Grosjean might have fallen short of claiming the championship - his fourth place finish was demoted to a pointless seventh place because he had gained an unfair advantage running off the track at Tamburello while battling Esteban Gutierrez on the penultimate lap.
When Grosjean won his first Asia series title, the runner-up was Sebastian Buemi, with Vitaly Petrov in third place. Both drivers are now in F1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso and Lotus Renault GP respectively, but Grosjean's own F1 Grand Prix career lasted just seven races in 2009 after he took over Nelson Piquet Jr.'s race seat at Renault for the last part of the season racing alongside Fernando Alonso. With 13th proving to be his best finish during those races, he was dropped by the team at the end of the year and replaced by Petrov. Since then, he's been picked up by new F1 tyre supplier Pirelli as a test driver.
So does Grosjean see his return to the feeder series as something of an embarrassing comedown?
"Absolutely not. You never lose time when you are racing. Every single year has been a great experience, even my time in F1," he asserted. "It could look like it was a disaster, but that's not the case because I learned so much especially alongside Fernando Alonso who has been very nice with me."
Grosjean is definite in saying that he does not see GP2 as a "stepping stone" back to a higher series any more than last year's runs in Auto GP and the FIA GT1 World Championship or the Pirelli testing work have been. Instead, his focus is on improving his level of driving, winning races - and claiming the GP2 main series title for Dams.
"It's a personal challenge," he said, pointing out that the main series was a matter of unfinished business for him, never having finished a season better than fourth in the championship. "I am back in GP2 now and I don't think anyone expected it. I'm sure I can have better results than the ones I got in 2008 and 2009," he said. "You can always improve in every single aspect ... This year, we have to be constant. That's the key in GP2. I have to make no mistake."
His unexpectedly strong form right from the start in the GP2 Asia series has certainly boosted the team's spirits. "I knew we would get the pace at one point. It was a good surprise that we were fast from the very beginning," he said. "We need to keep pushing, but it's a good way to start the season."
In terms of rivals for the GP2 main series, which starts in May in Istanbul at the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey, Grosjean singled out Bianchi - who had come closest to beating Grosjean to the Asia series title - and Bianchi's Mexican team mate Gutierrez. "I see Lotus ART as one of the strongest teams," he said, also singling out Dani Clos. "But there could be others as well because in GP2, pretty much, anything can happen."
Beyond the GP2 season, Grosjean won't be drawn about his future or whether a return to F1 could ever be on the cards. But the underlying message from his interview seems to be that, given a chance to race in Grand Prixs again, he would be a much stronger proposition thanks to the extra years of experience in the meantime: "I am not the same man I used to be," he warned.
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