Midseason Report: Grading Lotus Driver Romain Grosjean

Fraser Masefield@@fmasefieldContributor IAugust 13, 2013

Grosjean has managed only two podium finishes so far
Grosjean has managed only two podium finishes so farMark Thompson/Getty Images

Romain Grosjean has gained himself a bit of an unwanted reputation over the last couple of seasons as a reckless driver.

Whilst undoubtedly quick, as many of his qualifying performances have demonstrated, the young Frenchman has been responsible for a number of accidents leading to no shortage of criticism from his fellow drivers.

Grosjean’s position within his Lotus team is very much under threat and if he can’t cure his ways he will be looking for a new job in 2014.

Grosjean lined up eighth on the grid in Australia but whilst teammate Kimi Raikkonen cruised effortlessly through the pack and made his tyres work on a two stopper, the Frenchman got bogged down by a bad start and struggled with the balance of his car en route to grabbing the remaining point in 10th.

Malaysia was marginally better, Grosjean finishing a place above his teammate in sixth as Raikkonen was compromised by an early collision with Sergio Perez. There were more points in China but only two as Raikkonen pushed Fernando Alonso close for victory.

The pressure was on for Grosjean to deliver a stronger showing relative to his teammate in Bahrain and Grosjean did not disappoint, carving his way through the field from 11th on the grid to his first podium since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Grosjean put the result down to a change of chassis that gave him more confidence, as quoted by Autosport in his team’s post race press conference.

It's great to be back on the podium and it's a fantastic result for the team. It hasn't been an easy start to the season for me, but we made good progress through the weekend and are now back to where we should be. I felt much more comfortable in the car and the result today is a deserved reward for everyone after all our hard work. It was a really enjoyable race with a lot of overtaking and a couple of tense moments along the way, so to come from P11 through to the podium is really satisfying.

Grosjean’s joy would not carry over to Spain, however, as a rear suspension issue forced his retirement on lap 21 whilst Raikkonen notched another second place. And things went from bad to worse in Monaco, a poor qualifying leaving him 13th on the grid before he ploughed into the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso on lap 63, earning him a 10-place grid penalty for Canada.

It looked a rookie error and it appeared as though the leopard had not changed its spots. Grosjean was understandably sheepish when quoted by Autosport from his team’s press release.

I'd been following him for almost all of the 61 laps but I was caught out by him braking early in the middle of the circuit and there was nowhere for me to go. It's a frustrating end to the weekend, but the real damage was done in qualifying when I didn't get through to Q3. That was Daniel again who I was held up by, but it certainly wasn't my intention to end my race in the back of his car!

The penalty accrued in Monaco gave Grosjean little chance from the back of the grid in Canada, 13th the best he could have hoped for. And whilst Grosjean outqualified Raikkonen in Britain for the first time in the season, an unexplained front wing failure late in the race led to another DNF.

Germany proved a mirror image of Bahrain, Grosjean achieving his second podium of the season behind Raikkonen and race winner Sebastian Vettel. And like Bahrain, it had come at just the right time, the hot conditions playing to the Lotus’ strengths. Autosport quotes Grosjean as a happy driver afterwards.

After some difficult races, everything went right today and it was pretty special when I was leading the race and returning to the podium is naturally a good thing. My car felt great on the first stint with the soft tyres and it's clear that the summer weather really suits us. Hopefully we'll have a long summer now in Europe! Letting Kimi past at the end of the race was the sensible thing to do as we were on different strategies and he had more of a chance of going for the win than I did at that point.

As is so often the case, Grosjean has appeared unable to string two good performances together and Hungary would offer yet more disappointment. He first ran into Jenson Button at turn six, earning him a retrospective 20-second penalty and was later given a drive-through penalty for gaining an unfair advantage for leaving the track whilst passing Felipe Massa round the outside of Turn 4.

That he still managed to finish sixth shows what he may have been able to achieve. Button accused Grosjean of not thinking and the Frenchman was apologetic afterwards when quoted in his team’s press release on Autosport.

Maybe the strategy didn't quite work how we wanted, but the car felt really good and it was the traffic that cost us. Without this maybe there would never have been a drive-through penalty which for sure didn't help. I haven't seen the footage yet and I thought it was a good move, but unfortunately the stewards took a different view. I've no problem with the time-added for the incident with Jenson and I apologised to him afterwards.

So what to make of Grosjean’s season so far? It’s fair to say that it has been the predictable mixed bag with flashes of brilliance tempered by some all too familiar mistakes. It’s perhaps understandable that he’s been comprehensively outdriven by Raikkonen in almost every race, but how long will Lotus want a team with only one driver performing consistently?


Romain’s mid-season marks:

Temperament: 6/10

Qualifying: 6/10

Race craft: 6/10

Summary: Only two podiums seems a poor return for a man with one of the best cars. Needs a much stronger second half of the year or it could be curtains.