Romain Grosjean Playing a Dangerous Game with Lotus and F1 Future

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2014

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 04:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus looks on in the garage after practice ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Images)
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

Remember when Romain Grosjean was the happiest driver in Formula One? 

Less than a year ago, the Lotus driver was a case study of resurrection, having recovered from the crash compilation that was his 2012 campaign to establish himself as one of the most exciting talents on the grid.

Even in the midst of that spell of lost front wings and clumsy spins, as well as a one-race ban, Grosjean kept smiling.

He recognised that there was a problem—who couldn't?—but with the help of his colleagues and the hope of those three assured podium finishes in Bahrain, Canada and Hungary, he came through the other side.

Grosjean's run of form at the end of 2013, which saw him claim four podium finishes in the last six races, was not just a triumph for the Frenchman—it was a victory for determination and radiance.

It proved that nice guys don't necessarily finish last.

Fast forward nine months, however, and it is now Daniel Ricciardo with the infectious smile. It is Ricciardo who is the rising star. It is Ricciardo receiving the plaudits. 

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 27:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates victory on the podium after the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 27, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Images)
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

And Grosjean? Well, his smile has dropped as sharply as Lotus' form.

The frustration of tumbling down the grid, especially after Grosjean finished last season so strongly, has been clear to see.

From the very first weekend of the season in Australia, the team radio messages airing from the No. 8 car have been made by an angry young man struggling to come to terms with the prospect of his peak years being wasted in useless machinery.

Lotus' failure to make any notable gains over the first half of the campaign has convinced Grosjean that his future lies elsewhere, with the Frenchman making no secret of his desire to flee the team.

He was quoted at Silverstone last month by Sky Sports' James Galloway as stating:

You always think about your future. I’ve been here for a little bit, I know the team very well, but on the other hand I want to win races as well.

So things are open.

It’s early stages and what I really want now is to win my first grand prix of course—and why not trying to become World Champion?

I miss fighting for podiums and I miss drinking the champagne on Sunday afternoon. That’s what I want—that’s what all of us want. When you taste it once you don’t not want to taste it for a long time.

The come-and-get-me plea was soon followed up with a Hungarian Grand Prix performance best remembered for Grosjean storming out of the Lotus garage—complete, of course, with dark sunglasses and a grimace—during a Friday practice session as his car sat in the garage.

Despite his obvious speed behind the wheel, you suspect that Grosjean's conduct during Lotus' difficulties almost makes him unemployable for an outfit such as McLaren, for example, who have been viewed as the Frenchman's most likely destination due to the presence of racing director Eric Boullier, Grosjean's manager and former team principal.

YEONGAM-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 14:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus talks with his Team Principal Eric Boullier as he prepares to drive during the Korean Formula One Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit on October 14, 2012 in Yeongam-gun,
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen, McLaren's current drivers, looking increasingly likely to remain with the Woking, England, team due to a lack of availability of high-profile alternatives—and with the grid's leading teams unlikely to make any changes for 2015—Grosjean could find himself chained to Lotus for at least another season.

NOIDA, INDIA - OCTOBER 27:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus celebrates finishing third during the Indian Formula One Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit on October 27, 2013 in Noida, India.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And if he does remain with the Enstone team, he could soon find himself on shaky ground.

The effect of the absence of Boullier, his mentor, has been evident this season, but the possible departure of Renault as Lotus' power-unit partner would be more harmful to his F1 career.

If, as F1 journalist Joe Saward has claimed, Lotus announce a deal to use Mercedes engines from 2015, the team are likely to lose support from fuel supplier Total, a sponsor of Grosjean's, as well as Renault—leaving Lotus with fewer reasons to retain him.

The requirements of Formula One drivers in the modern era stretch far beyond the obligation to perform on the track; they are now ambassadors, poster boys, glorified salesmen. 

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Heikki Kovalainen of Finland and Caterham attends the drivers press conference during previews to the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on July 26, 2012 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty Ima
Drew Gibson/Getty Images

With that in mind, it is no surprise that the more grumpy drivers in recent years have found themselves frozen out of the sport.

Heikki Kovalainen, the likeable Finnish driver, for instance, was dumped by Caterham at the end of 2012 after trying a little too hard to find a competitive drive after three straight seasons rooted to the rear of the field.

The reasons for Caterham's decision to let Kovalainen, the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix winner, go were damning, with the team's Mike Gascoyne informing Crash.net

It is actually a great shame. Heikki is a very talented driver but, last year, his management did not handle him very well and he has not done himself any favours. It is a tough environment out there for everyone. He has had three years with Caterham, was paid well, and he should have shown more respect about that.

Likewise, Paul di Resta left Force India at the end of last year despite gathering a credible amount of points for the midfield outfit.

Although his performances on track were generally decent, his off-track profile was virtually nonexistent, with the Scot, having seen opportunities with leading teams pass him by, frequently berating his team over the pit-to-car radio.

Neither driver is likely to race in F1 again. 

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 28:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus prepares to drive during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit on March 28, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Grosjean would be well-advised to take heed of the sorry tales of Kovalainen and Di Resta when he decides his Formula One future.

It is human nature for a driver to be eager to further his career, but it is irresponsible and inappropriate for one to force the issue to the point where it causes more harm than good, putting that very career in jeopardy.

The driver market, with just 22 seats available, is arguably more competitive than it has ever been, and there will always one driver to fill the gap left by another.

It's time to shut up and drive, Romain.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.