Exclusive Romain Grosjean Q&A: Lotus driver back on the up in 2015
"When you turn right, this year’s car turns right!" Romain on Lotus's return to the top ten, the frustration of missing P1 sessions, his career progression, and plenty more...
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 19/05/15 1:43pm
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean has already just about seen it all in a roller-coaster Formula 1 career so far.
Still just the right side of 30, the Frenchman was touted as the next big thing when he was parachuted into Renault midway through the 2009 season to partner Fernando Alonso. Soon sent on his way again after seven difficult races, Grosjean re-established his reputation in sportscars and then GP2, where he won the title, to get another shot at the big time with his old F1 team, now renamed Lotus, in 2012.
Flashes of undoubted promise, however, were punctured by a string of first-lap accidents and in addition to the ignominy of being handed a one-race ban, Grosjean was unceremoniously – but perhaps not entirely unfairly at the time – christened the “first-lap nutcase” by Mark Webber. But Grosjean, via the help of a psychologist to calm his early-race aggressive streak, steadily emerged as a reborn driver and appeared to confirm himself as a future race winner with six impressive podium finishes in 2013.
Then, through no fault of his own, he didn’t get close to replicating those results last year as Lotus were left trailing at the start of F1’s new turbo era. However, the Enstone team – and therefore Grosjean – are back on the up in 2015 and Sky Sports Digital caught up with the genial Frenchman at the Spanish GP to both look forward and look back...
The start of the European season is always a time to take stock, so how would you rate your personal performances so far in 2015?
Romain Grosjean: “Pretty good to be fair. It’s always hard to rate yourself, even though I’m ‘R8’! [Romain’s initial and car number]. Qualifying-wise there are always laps you could have done better and so on, but race-wise I think we have achieved 100 per cent of what we could.
“There are always times when you can think ‘oh, I could have done that a little bit better’ but in general I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve been driving, the way my engineers have been working with me – especially as we changed a little bit the structure of the team – and the way the team have been reacting to problems or performance.
“To be fair, it’s a good start to the season.”
You’ve missed the last three Practice One sessions while the team give Jolyon Palmer track time. Do you find that disrupts your race weekend?
RG: “It clearly doesn’t help your weekend. There are tests you would like to do in P1 and change for P2 to see how the car reacts and then take the best decision for P3, qualifying and the race. Of course, when you are not in the car in P1 there are braking maps, differential maps, big test items that you cannot do.
“On the other hand, it’s hard to get into Formula 1 and it’s a good opportunity for Jolyon – he’s been GP2 champion, so it’s good for him to be able to drive the car on a racing weekend. Of course, you would always prefer to lose less of them and share with the two cars, but so far it is what it is.”
With new parts to try on the car in a weekend such as this, that does mean you pay particular attention to what happens in P1 even when you're not driving?
RG: “Now that Jolyon is getting more and more used to the car he will be able to get more and more feedback and help me a little bit to somehow get the best set-up for P2.
“They are going to try new parts on the car, they are going to try set-up items that we can get the drivers’ feedback on and measurement from the data as well. When we get all that information we can pick up what is the best solution for us.”
Discounting the Spanish GP weekend last year – when you qualified fifth – how would you compare where Lotus is now performance-wise to 12 months ago?
RG: “There is no comparison possible. Last year from day one I knew the car was a bad car. The [Renault] engine wasn’t ready and every time we tried to improve the car we didn’t get it to improve.
“We had a good qualifying here, P5 on the grid, but we had no idea why. I think it’s one of the secrets of Formula 1! So it’s difficult to compare, this year is just more of a normal year. Every time we bring small updates on the car they work and it’s easier to set-up and to go around.”
Romain Grosjean’s F1 record
Seasons: 2009 (part), 2012-present
Wins: 0 / Best result: 2nd (x2)
Poles: 0 / Best qualifying: 2nd
Championship best: 7th (2013)
Lotus’s switch to Mercedes engines has been credited with much of that improvement, but how much work has gone into improving the chassis itself?
RG: “To me, it’s mainly the chassis. The engine is a straight line – if you are 310 or 320 [kph] in a straight line you won’t see the difference. Of course, the Mercedes is a world champion engine and everything was ready, it was just ‘plug in and go’, rather than last year where we had new technology coming into Formula 1 and everything had to be set up. So it was a big difference.
“To me it’s when you turn right, this year’s car turns right! Last year that was not the case. It seems a bit crazy to say so, but it’s the best example I can give.
And, engine aside, where have the biggest gains been?
RG: “We’ve mainly improved low-speed and consistency.”
Was there ever a stage last year when you lost faith in the team?
RG: “Not really because I knew that the people who are working in Enstone and racing are proper racers. They know what they want to do, what they need to do and they are doing their best with what is given to them. As long as you see that the people you are working with are committed to what they do and trying to do their best and always pushing hard and being racers, that’s what you want.”
So how do you see this year progressing?
RG: “Give me a little bit more time! We are going to try our best to be that car. Of course, Red Bull is certainly going to progress with the big infrastructure they have. It’s a big machine.
“On our side, I’m truly hoping that the updates we’re bringing now and the next one in the pipeline, which should make a big difference, give us a chunk of lap time.”
Looking at your own career progression, you had some difficulties to begin with in F1, but then hit the heights with a string of podiums in 2013. Since then though, do you feel as if you’ve been starting again?
RG: “Not really. Every year in Formula 1 is an important year and you need to show you’re still here and still being able to be strong and on top of your game. Of course, when you’ve got a good car it’s much easier to show results and people think ‘ah, he’s finished third and it was a brilliant drive’. The last two drives I made to finish P7 were pretty good as well and, if anything, as good as most of them in 2013.
“When the car is really good it allows you to push a bit harder and do extraordinary things, but I haven’t given up yet to do some nice stuff with E23.”