F2 Graduates: Romain Grosjean
We take a look back at the 2011 Series Champion, and current Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean’s title-winning season in the category which earned him a second bite at the F1 cherry.
The Frenchman looked to be a driver ready for F1 having learned a lot from his initial baptism of fire in 2009. He duly secured that F1 berth in 2011 by winning the main GP2 and GP2 Asia Series, going on to have a rollercoaster first full season in 2012 before having decent seasons thereafter and now hitting a rough patch with Haas in 2020 which has led to the decision that the team will change both of their drivers in 2021. Romain has shown his pace when he has had the car to do so but with Haas looking to build for the future both in the car and also commercially this may be the end of the F1 story for Romain.
Grosjean’s time in F1 had its flashes of brilliance where he could mix it up in the sharp end of the field in a capable car where he scored several podiums, but he also had to shake off a rather loose cannon reputation he earned after his first full season in F1 where he was involved in
multiple first corner incidents and a race ban. Regardless, his achievements prior to F1 – GP2 in particular – was how he earned his place in F1.
Romain’s story in GP2 is one of two parts so we thought it best to start from the beginning and review his journey from the early years through his Road to F1 and back again.
Early Single-Seater Years
His junior career was nothing to be sniffed at as he ticked some boxes needed in his journey to F1. He won the Formula Lista Junior 1.6 series at the start of his single-seater career, and then took the Formula Renault route racing in the French championship and the Eurocup in 2004 – winning the latter in 2005 – before making the leap to Formula 3 machinery, winning the highly competitive F3 Euro Series in 2007 in dominant fashion.
GP2 Series and The Promising Debut Season
Grosjean afterwards took part in the main GP2 Series in 2008 and also raced in the inaugural season of the GP2 Asia Series – where he won prior to beginning of the main GP2 Series season. Racing with the ART Grand Prix squad for both series, he enjoyed a very competitive season in the main series winning 2 races, 6 podiums, 1 pole position and 2 fastest laps to place as the highest rookie as well as being the best placed ART driver.
Despite his very promising first season in both GP2 series with ART, he would lose his drive in the team to future fellow F1 drivers Nico Hülkenberg and Pastor Maldonado – which led him to sign for the Barwa Addax team with help from Renault as he was their test driver. Grosjean was competitive that season and was in the thick of the championship battle past the midway point of the season, before a seismic event happened in F1.
Promotion To F1
That seismic event was the “Crashgate” scandal that enveloped the Renault F1 Team into disarray and turmoil which led to the team losing their title sponsor ING and sacking second driver Nelson Piquet Jr. in the process. The events that happened in F1 and in particular the Renault team led to an opportunity for Grosjean to step up to the big league at the European Grand Prix in Valencia.
He was promoted to the team from test driver to race driver and despite the unfavourable circumstances had encouraging sessions. Qualifying 14th, Grosjean’s race was scuppered when he was involved in an incident which necessitated repairs where he eventually finished 15th. After a decent debut, his season afterwards was a fairly challenging one coming straight into the lion’s den given Renault’s situation that year.
After Being Let Go By Renault
Having “learnt an enormous amount” in 2009, Grosjean would once again lose a race seat – this time to his GP2 Barwa Addax teammate Vitaly Petrov – and was without a drive in F1 for the 2010 season. He did however secure a test driver role for Pirelli in preparation for the tyre manufacturer’s return to supplying the F1 grid in 2011.
In addition to the F1 test role with Pirelli, he also participated part-time in the GP2 Series with French team DAMS – driving 4 rounds for the team securing 2 podiums.
Outside of that in 2010, he raced in the inaugural FIA GT1 World Championship driving a Ford GT1 for Matech winning two races and debuted in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMGT1 class where his crew qualified 3rd but were forced to retire after 171 laps. He also raced in the Auto GP Series with DAMS, where he won the series outright despite missing two rounds of the series due to his GT1 commitments – securing another title.
The Auto GP success proved to be enough for a return to the GP2 Series.
GP2 Series Part II: The Full-Time Return
It was with DAMS that Grosjean secured a route back to the F1 paddock and was back in the radar for an F1 seat as he returned to the GP2 Series full-time this time. It was somewhat of a make-or-break season for the Frenchman as he had the most experience in the category up to that point having cumulatively raced in 40 races and contending with some stiff opposition.
Before starting the main GP2 Series season, Grosjean also participated in the offshoot GP2 Asia Series with DAMS, a series which he won before in 2008. A 2nd and a retirement were his results in Yas Marina before the series was prematurely truncated due to the anti-government protests in Bahrain where the two rounds there were cancelled and the finale was hastily moved to Imola in Italy.
Grosjean made good with the new for 2011 GP2 car package in Imola and secured a Feature Race win ahead of countryman and championship rival Jules Bianchi. Despite not finishing in the points in the Sprint Race, Grosjean secured enough of a points gap ahead of Bianchi to clinch the GP2 Asia Series title by just 6 points and having the distinction of winning the Asian championship in Europe.
With the Asian series clinched, focus now shifted to the main European-based GP2 Series where the title up for grabs weighed more significance. He entered the season as one of the title favourites, and was firmly on the money in Istanbul as he claimed the first race of the season maintaining his lead in the race and holding off Sam Bird to win with fellow title favourite Jules Bianchi in 3rd.
Grosjean couldn’t collect more points in the Sprint Race after he tangled with Bianchi and settled for 10th. The second round in Barcelona wasn’t favourable to Grosjean either as he was disqualified in the Feature Race for a technical infringement after finishing 4th, and a recovery drive to 7th in the Sprint Race yielded no points. He did however pull off one of the moves of the season with a brilliant triple overtake in 2 corners in the Sprint Race.
Having lost the championship lead in Barcelona, things seemed to go from bad to worse for Grosjean as the hectic qualifying session in Monaco saw the Frenchman mount the rear end of his DAMS teammate Pal Varhaug at the Rascasse and started right at the back of the grid for the Feature Race. Despite the setback, Grosjean played the strategy game well to recover to 4th and scoring invaluable points.
The 4th place turned out to be crucial as the joint championship leader Sam Bird only scored 2 points the whole weekend via his bonus points for pole position, and a podium in the Sprint Race was enough for Grosjean to claim the championship lead – albeit tied on points with Bird as the championship headed to Valencia with the title race wide open.
At Valencia, Grosjean started third behind a front row locked out by his former team Barwa Addax. That was no obstacle for Grosjean as misfortunes befell on Barwa Addax that paved the way clear for Grosjean to claim his second Feature Race win of the season to reclaim the lead of the championship. He however triggered a first lap crash in the Sprint Race which resulted in a grid penalty, but maintained points lead heading to Silverstone.
The grid penalty wasn’t a deterrent as despite starting from 13th, he finished 4th in the Feature Race and then backed that result up with a win in the Sprint Race to ease away slightly at the top of the standings to 9 points. Nürburgring was next and it was another podium for Grosjean in the Feature Race, he topped that with a second consecutive Sprint Race win after an exciting battle with Bianchi and Luca Filippi in the closing stages.
18 points was the gap at the top and Grosjean was looking more and more imperious. The Hungaroring was next on the schedule and it was another strong weekend for Grosjean as he claimed another Feature Race win – after race leader Marcus Ericsson was given a drive-through penalty – and was on the podium again in the Sprint Race narrowly missing an incident with Christian Vietoris to clinch 3rd.
The gap was now at 25 points and he was on the cusp of winning the GP2 Series title with just two race weekends to go. And it was at Spa-Francorchamps where Grosjean made good with his chance of claiming the title by finishing 3rd on a rainy day at the Ardennes. The title was also sealed after his nearest rival Giedo van der Garde retired from the Feature Race and Grosjean was able to hold 3rd.
With the GP2 Series title clinched, Grosjean also completed a double after winning the GP2 Asia Series title earlier in the year and became the first and only driver to win both GP2 Series in the same year as well as being the most successful GP2 Series driver with 3 titles – 2 Asia Series titles and 1 main series title. The floodgates were well and truly open for his F1 opportunity.
Grosjean ended the Spa round outside the podium for the first time in 6 races with a 4th place finish in the Sprint Race with the title was already sealed. The finale in Monza would be a mixed bag as he scored the final ever podium of his GP2 career with a 3rd behind Filippi and Charles Pic in the Feature Race while he ended his GP2 career on a damp squib after being involved in an incident with Pic to finish 21st in the Sprint Race.
Not quite the ending that he would’ve hoped for, but his F1 seat was beckoning.
After being out of F1 following his departure from Renault, it somewhat came full circle as he was signed by the French outfit for the 2012 season – albeit under a different name as the Renault became the Lotus F1 Team.
He duly did the Test Driver duties for the Lotus Renault GP as it was known at that time in the Abu Dhabi and Brazilian Grands Prix before finally being able to drive in F1 full-time the very next season.
A very fitting end for an F2/GP2 Graduate in the category.
It’s been over 9 years since that title-winning season in GP2, Grosjean has since scored 10 podiums in F1, all of which have been with the Lotus F1 Team – which was re-renamed as Renault who will now become Alpine in 2021 – and it has been a decent career so far at the pinnacle of single-seater racing.
Though he has been on a rough patch since joining Haas in 2016. Points have come few and far between compared to when he had a more capable car at Lotus, and some incidents on-track and off-track have been well-documented – not least in the Netflix Drive To Survive series – but the Frenchman continues to soldier on in the ever-tight midfield of F1 with 2020 being of F1’s more unique seasons.
Whatever happens from here and in the future, Grosjean’s credentials as an F1 driver was well-earned when he was excelling in the GP2 Series.
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