January 16th, 2013 (F1plus / Paul Godley).- Lotus recently announced that Romain Grosjean would once again be racing for the Enstone outfit in 2013, partnering Kimi Raikkonen for a second consecutive season. The news, whilst not overly surprising, was one which many had started to doubt would ever happen. To say the Frenchman had a mixed 2012 would be putting it lightly.
Some brilliant performances in qualifying early doors, as well as podium finishes in Bahrain, Canada and Hungary led fans and pundits alike to believe that Lotus' decision to bring Grosjean back to Formula 1 had been a wise and shrewd decision. Unfortunately for Romain (and several other drivers along the way), he developed the unwanted knack of being involved in first lap incidents, often ending his and his competitors races after just a few miles. This was most evident at Spa, where the horror crash involving Romain, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso led to the Frenchman becoming the first driver since Michael Schumacher to be hit with a race ban. A race ban that he served; and slowly but surely learnt from (if we ignore Suzuka...).
Post race ban he showed a lot more consistency, finishing in the points in 4 of the final 7 races to secure 8th place in the final standings. Romain was under immense pressure, with fans, experts, ex-drivers and current drivers calling for some sort of sterner action to be brought against the Frenchman for his multiple first lap incidents. The coming together with Mark Webber in Suzuka, which led to the Australian calling Grosjean a 'first lap nutcase', was one such incident in which the blame has to lay solely with him. But, and this is a point that many seemed to ignore, many of the incidents were not entirely Grosjean's fault; and were, more often than not, racing incidents. Yes, a racing incident! Who'd have thought it. Grosjean became an easy target, with many forgetting what a fine job he had done up until Spa.
From the outset it appeared that not only did he have the pace to match his team mate Kimi Raikkonen, but that he could also beat him, particularly over one lap. You could argue that the first two race weekends of the season sum the Frenchman's season up well. Two great performances on the Saturday to line up 3rd and 6th (compared to Kimi's 17th and 10th) were followed up by two early retirements. No points scored, but the pace was there for all to see. He had what all sporting greats had at one point; potential.
Romain Grosjean will look to improve his performance in 2013. (LAT Photo)
There were two stand out drives for me in 2012; Canada and Silverstone. Around the tight and tricky Montreal circuit he displayed not only outstanding car control, but tyre management skills as well to drive through from 7th to 2nd and lead home the drivers that stopped just once. Silverstone began like several races before it, with a first lap collision resulting in an early pit stop. From there on in Grosjean to me looked the fastest car on track, and clawed his way through from last place to 6th, just one place behind his team mate. Silverstone showed that he can race, that he can overtake and he can more than match his team mate on the day. So why can't he display that on a more regular basis you may ask? To that question I have no real answer, sorry.
It certainly appeared to take a few races to get his confidence back after the race ban; perfectly understandable after the scrutiny and scepticism that had surrounded him for weeks. We did see a more cautious driver after his return, there's no doubt about that, but it's a side that I think many wanted and probably needed to see. He showed he could still race and overtake, but also that he had calmed down. Let's not forget, this was his first full season in Formula 1. Many, many drivers have tricky start to their career, and maybe because Grosjean was in a competitive front running car, the mistakes were noticed more. One thing is for certain, he showed on numerous occasions that he has the speed to be in Formula 1, and in my opinion the right decision has been made to retain him for 2013.
So, could Romain conquer in 2013? Will he come back stronger? Will the car allow him (and Kimi) to once again fight for podiums and race victories? I guess we'll just have to see. He has the raw speed and talent to race at the front of a Formula 1 grid. 2013 is where he really needs to deliver and prove to his team, his sponsors, the media and the fans that he deserves a second (arguably a third) chance.
I truly believe that he will prove his doubters wrong and that he will not only score podiums, but race wins too; if the car is at that level. He's showed in both qualifying and races (when he's finished) that he can beat Raikkonen, he just needs to find that balance between being fast and consistent. A winter with the team can only help and make him faster and stronger, both mentally and physically heading into Melbourne in March. A tricky 2012 for Grosjean drew to a close with an impressive performance in Thailand to be crowned the Race of Champions champion. An omen for next year? (That's not me saying he will win the championship, just that the momentum and confidence from any victory can only be a good thing). The Romain Empire continues into 2013. Will he rise to the challenge or collapse under the pressure?