Author: Jack Vines (Guest Writer).
Romain Grosjean’s Formula 1 career came to a premature end after that horrific first-lap crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix, announcing that he would be flying home to spend time with his family after being discharged from hospital. The 34-year-old was due to exit the sport at the end of 2020, but it is a great shame that this accident closed the chapter on his time in the sport, especially because he fell just two races short of a centenary with the Haas team that he joined when they made their debut in 2016. Romain’s 10 seasons in F1 have been marred by turbulence, from being labelled a “first-lap nutcase” due to a spate of incidents in the 2012 season that saw him become the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 1994 to receive a race ban, to embarrassing crashes under the safety car and in the pit lane. He has often been on the end of criticism from drivers and trolling from fans online, yet, Romain has also shown his talents inside the cockpit and during his free time. Not only has Romain picked up 10 podiums in F1, all of which were achieved whilst driving for Lotus, he also has a pretty wholesome presence on social media with his Lego-building and Twitch streaming. Whilst falling short of that race win, Romain has a number of excellent performances from his stints at Lotus and Haas. Here are the top five:
5) 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix
Romain returned to F1 in 2012 as the 2011 GP2 Champion with the Enstone-based Lotus outfit, the same team he drove seven races for in 2009 as a replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr. when they were known as Renault, who had left the team mid-season following the revelations of the ‘Crashgate’ scandal. 2012 started with promise as Romain reached Q3 in the first two rounds, however he would retire early in both races, which involved clashes with Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher in Australia and Malaysia respectively. However, his form soon picked up, particularly in Bahrain, where Romain had a particularly strong showing. He qualified P7, four positions in front of his far more experienced team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen. This was followed by a controlled race with excellent tyre management to finish third, meaning that Grosjean become the first Frenchman on an F1 podium in 14 years. Although the 2012 season was full of rookie errors from Grosjean, this particular result showed his credentials with battling at the front of the grid against far more experienced drivers. Romain would end his first full season 8th in the Driver’s Championship, with second and third place finishes in Canada and Hungary respectively being the highlights.
4) 2018 Austrian Grand Prix
Qualifying: P6 (Started P5)
The 2018 season was by far Haas’ strongest season in F1, but Grosjean had a disastrous start to that year. Although helpless with the pit stop error that cost him a top 5 finish at the season-opening Australian GP, Romain arrived at round nine in Austria with no points due to a number of errors, notably under the safety car in Baku and triggering the first lap carnage in Barcelona. However, Romain qualified an excellent P6, inherited P5 due to a gearbox penalty for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and came home in P4. Team-mate Kevin Magnussen followed home in P5, which saw Haas achieve their best team result to date. The race was notable for retirements from both Mercedes drivers in front of Grosjean, but he battled with Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at the start of the race and put himself in prime position to steal a podium should any more problems hit the cars in front of him. This was also a key turning point in Grosjean’s season as six points finishes in the next 12 rounds saw him recover to 14th in the Championship with 37 points (his best points haul in the five seasons he spent at the team).
3) 2014 Spanish Grand Prix
2014 was Romain’s third full season in F1 and his most difficult up until this year because of Lotus’ abysmal grasp of the new regulations, epitomised by the hideous twin-tusked nose and further exacerbated by a disappointing hybrid package from Renault. Grosjean also had a new team-mate for this season after Kimi Raikkonen’s departure to Ferrari, one-time race winner Pastor Maldonado. However, the duo had an Australian GP plagued by technical gremlins with the duo qualifying behind the back markers of Caterham and Marussia and failed to finish the race. Fast forward to the fifth round in Spain and the team had no points, with a best finish of P11 in Malaysia courtesy of Grosjean. However, Romain starred at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya by qualifying in P5. He came home in a respectable P8 after battling with former team-mate Raikkonen. It was the team’s first points of the season and came rather unexpectedly after such a difficult start to the season, Romain would follow that up with another eighth placed finish in a chaotic Monaco GP, but would fail to score for the rest of the season. The result at Spain highlighted that even in such a difficult season, the Frenchman was still able to extract some performance from the E22.
2) 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix
Many would list his debut points at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix as one of Grosjean’s best showings in Formula 1, however this came with a huge slice of luck as he was able to take advantage of a free pitstop under red flag for a serious collision between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutiérrez, ironically his Haas team-mate at the time, to claim P6. This was in spite of qualifying down in P19. However, his drive at the next round in Bahrain deserves the plaudits as this was earnt on merit. A first Q3 appearance of the season saw Romain start the Bahrain Grand Prix in P9 and avoided numerous first corner collisions around him to take an excellent P5 finish, which actually put Romain level for 4th place in the Driver’s Championship at the time. This was one of his most mature drives and highlighted that Haas could compete with established midfield teams despite their infancy in F1. Although Haas’ pace quickly faded after this race, Grosjean would score points on three further occasions to finish 13th in the Championship with 29 points. Romain contributed all of Haas’ points that season as the American team finished a respectable P8 in the Constructor’s Championship.
1) 2013 Japanese Grand Prix
The end of the 2013 season was characterised by Sebastian Vettel’s dominance, taking nine consecutive victories to equal a record held by Alberto Ascari which dated back to 1953. Yet, one storyline that flies under the radar was how strongly Romain ended this season. This was emphasised at the Japanese Grand Prix, where Grosjean finished P3, which was his fourth podium of that season. However, what was so impressive about this race was that Romain led a significant portion of the race after taking the lead into turn 1, just a year after a first-lap clash with Red Bull’s Mark Webber at that same corner. Romain looked in his element as he led 26 of the 53 laps at Suzuka and whilst he was unable to fend off the mighty Red Bulls, the Frenchman finished just over ten seconds away from race-winner, Sebastian Vettel. Furthermore, in the ten races that followed the summer break, Grosjean scored points in eight, including four podiums at South Korea, Japan, India and USA. Overall, 2013 was by far Romain’s best season where he took six podiums overall to finish P7 in the Driver’s Championship, and he was also able to challenge Raikkonen on a more regular basis than 2012. The 2013 Japanese GP was the highlight of Romain’s development in F1. Granted, he has had numerous clashes and embarrassing incidents that are a blemish on his record, but has also had drives that are the epitome of Grand Prix winners.
We’re all glad the incident in Bahrain was not the last time we would see Grosjean on a race track, as he has a few things planned for 2021, but rest assured that the incident of Bahrain 2020 will forever pay testimony to the health and safety developments of F1. Without the introduction of the halo in 2018, a contraption that Romain was initially a critic of, we would ultimately be paying tribute to the life of Romain and not just the unfortunate end to his F1 career, a career that deserves more recognition than what Romain is accredited to by the fanbase.