Having dropped off the radar following his seven-race spell with Reanult in 2009 Romain Grosjean is back in the hunt for an F1 drive this year, contesting the GP2 Series with DAMS. Badger put the questions to the Frenchman ahead of what promises to be a make-or-break season in his motorsport career.
“This is not a matter of revenge – it’s all about passion.”
When the seventh season of GP2 kicks off in Turkey next month one man will stand alone for many as favourite to take the crown. Former Renault racer Romain Grosjean has the experience, speed and title-winning credentials to make the championship his own in 2011, three years – and an abortive Formula One stint – after he first appeared in the series.
But as Grosjean explains this isn’t about proving the doubters wrong – his motivation to succeed is rooted in a desire to achieve in the here and now.
“I don’t care about those who doubt my performances,” insists the Swiss-born racer. “This is not a matter of revenge. This is all about passion and giving my best for me and the team I am racing for.”
Since departing Formula One at the conclusion of that seven-race stint with Renault in 2009 Grosjean has rebuilt his reputation, perhaps to the point where it is greater than before the ill-fated seat opened up. 2010 began with impressive displays in the GT1 World Championship (he was a race-winner at the opening round in Abu Dhabi) and a superb AutoGP title win, claimed despite the small hinderance of joining the action with a third of the season already complete.
“It’s always good to try different categories and test different cars,” says the 25-year-old. “It helped me to get some more experience and to discover GTs and endurance racing. They’re two different worlds that you can’t compare, but I have a lot of fun driving both types of car.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I went to Auto GP,” he says of the series that was re-branded in 2010 after several years running under the Euroseries 3000 moniker, “but after the first race in Spa I knew that we could win races because, the team was extremely competitive. When I caught the lead of the championship, then I started to think about the title and it was a fantastic feeling.”
And hugely impressive. Of the eight races he contested he was on the podium seven times, taking four wins, one second and two third place finishes. He dovetailed this with a mid-season return to GP2 with DAMS, the same team who took him to AutoGP glory, and despite not making quite such an instant splash was nevertheless impressive, taking podiums at Spa and in Abu Dhabi. It’s no surprise he’ll stick with them for 2011.
“I’ve known the DAMS team for a long time and I know that it is a big and successful team. Winning the GP2 title is our objective for this season and it is a really great challenge – I’m sure we can reach our goal.”
“When you have the chance of an F1 seat, you don’t even consider saying no – I have no regrets about it.”
But whilst the future may appear bright now there is no denying that it looked pretty bleak at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign. As Sebastien Vettel led Mark Webber in a Red Bull one-two at Abu Dhabi Grosjean was crossing the line last; few noticed, and many of those who did expected it to be his last appearance in an F1 car.
Parachutted in to the team following Nelson Piquet Jr’s acrimonious dismissal, Grosjean landed at an F1 outfit in turmoil. The crashgate scandal was hitting its peak – the management were leaving (forcibly), sponsors were pulling the plug and, to top it all off, the car was a dog. Oh, and F1’s restricted testing meant he’d not sat in the R29 until he rolled out of the garage at Valencia. As F1 baptisms come there’s not much more that could have gone wrong. Perhaps if they’d blindfolded him…
“For sure it wasn’t easy to jump in F1 without testing or simulator time,” he says of his F1 initiation, “but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved anyway. My performance in the car was very good compared to those of Alonso, who is clearly one of the best drivers in Formula One. He was a friend before being a team-mate – I really appreciated working with him and I’ve learned a lot from him. But, unfortunately, the R29 wasn’t a good car at all.”
Grosjean was still in contention for the GP2 title when he got the call to join Renault, but says he never considered turning the seat down so as to stay on and fight Nico Hulkenberg for feeder series crown.
“When you have the chance of an F1 seat, you don’t even consider saying no. My answer was clearly ‘yes’ when I could go for the seat in 2009, and I have no regrets about it,” he insists. But it’s worth noting that the driver he was paired with at the Addax team that year would subsequently replace him at Renault for 2010. Vitaly Petrov has emerged after a scruffy debut year – not too different to the initial jitters Grosjean suffered – to prove himself a driver of genuine ability at the opening round of the 2011 campaign. Was Romain just a tad jealous of his old stablemate’s success? After all, that could have been him.
Not at all: “I’m very happy for Vitaly. He just needed a bit of experience. He worked well and did a really good race in Australia. It’s a great result for him and for Lotus Renault GP – it shows that young drivers are able to do good performances.”
This year he’s back with the team as a reserve driver, one of many who fills that role but arguably the one with the strongest possibility of returning to F1 (sorry Bruno Senna fans).
“I’ll do some demos, some aero tests and perhaps a bit of track testing,” says Grosjean. “It’s very important for me to be involved in Formula One to get a race seat next year and I am really motivated to help Renault as much as I can.”
If – and it remains a big if – he wins the GP2 title with DAMS, a team who have never taken a driver to higher than fifth in the standings (back in 2007) it will rank as a huge achievement, one unquestionably deserving of a second F1 chance. There’s still a long way to go, but Romain Grosjean is well on his way to grand prix redemption.