LONDON, April 27, 2012 (AFP) - Romain Grosjean's rapid progress this season has been given added impetus after Lotus team chief Eric Boullier claimed theFrenchman had the talent to be a Formula One world drivers champion.
Grosjean, 26 last week, finished third in last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix one place behind his vastly more experienced Finnish team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion and a veteran of 159 races and 18 wins.
It was his first F1 podium, and the first for a French driver since 1998.
The Bahrain race, won by Germany's Sebastian Vettel in a Red Bull, was only the 11th start of the Franco-Swiss driver's impressive F1 career - but was enough to convince Boullier that he has a special driver of great potential in the team.
"You know what impressed me most, more than just the podium finish, was his speed and his racing," said Boullier.
"More than the podium finish, what was impressive is the fact that he finished so close to Kimi and just 10 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel.
"I was not expecting to have both drivers to finish so close together and that is good for us and for him. It means that he is now capable and ready to
compete at the highest level.
"He has the speed and the talent to be world champion one day."
Boullier added that he felt his team's strong driver line-up this year will be the key to their hopes of success.
He said he was impressed with Raikkonen's drive to second place, but expects more improvement from the 32-year-old Finn as he settles back into F1 after two years away rallying.
And he said he believes the Lotus team - which ran as Renault last year - will also improve.
"There is more to come," said Boullier. "Kimi has shown many times that he has the pace. When he needed to recover, from a bad qualifying in the race, he has been able to do it.
"It took him very little time to recover after a two year absence and he showed this weekend that he is there."
Boullier agreed also that in this year's championship it is also essential for the team and their drivers to understand their tyres and manage them.
He said: "But you have to also work on the car and its development.
"It is key to get your car into a position where you can exploit the tyres in the right way. It makes no sense to try and bring a couple of tenths from down-force if you don't understand the tyres -- because this year you can lose a lot more.
"But you have to keep developing the car if you want to keep contact with the top teams."