Grosjean making the most of his second chance
Barcelona, May 11, 2012
First Published: 22:04 IST(11/5/2012)
Last Updated: 22:06 IST(11/5/2012)
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Two years ago, as his girlfriend flew off to the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix for her work as a television reporter and he had no race to go to, Romain Grosjean hit rock bottom.
Romain Grosjean's third place finish in Bahrain was his first F1 career podium. Reuters Photo
"She was there and I was home. Honestly, I thought it (his grand prix career) was over and I would never come back to Formula One," said the Swiss-born French racer.
Very few drivers get a second chance at the pinnacle of motor racing and Grosjean feared he would become another statistic after a failed first opportunity with Renault in 2009.
That difficult season now seems a world away from the present, with Grosjean finishing third for Lotus in Bahrain last month for his first F1 podium finish and finding himself very much in demand in Spain this weekend.
"I feel lucky in a way that people trusted me when I was down...today we can be happy and proud of what we did.
I am especially touched that they helped me when it was harder," said the 26-year-old, who worked in a Swiss bank during his early career.
"I had to go in every day at 9 a.m. with a suit and a tie to the office. I had my own desk and my computer. It was very interesting to see what I call the real world," he said
In 2009, he was drafted in to replace Brazilian Nelson Piquet junior at a time when the Renault team, run by flamboyant Italian Flavio Briatore, was about to become entangled in one of the sport's biggest scandals.
Piquet revealed he had been ordered to crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help team mate Fernando Alonso win, triggering a scandal that left Renault with a suspended permanent ban and Briatore out of a job.
Grosjean failed to score a point in his seven races and was replaced at the end of the season by Russian Vitaly Petrov alongside Poland's Robert Kubica.
In 2010, he competed in sportscars and wondered what to do next. Formula One had receded into the distance.
He did not give up, though, and nor did his supporters - current Lotus boss Eric Boullier, the now-renamed Renault team's new owner Gerard Lopez and oil sponsor Total.
Grosjean won the GP2 support series in 2011 and returned to Formula One once it became clear that Kubica - seriously injured in a rally accident - was not coming back for the start of the campaign after missing all of last season.
The Lotus looked quick in testing and Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion beginning his comeback after two years out in rallying, showed it really was competitive once racing started.
The Frenchman started the season-opening Australian race in third place, qualified sixth in Malaysia and 10th in China. In Bahrain, Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean third.
Grosjean made mistakes in the first two races but sixth place in China and third in Bahrain redeemed that. At the very least, he has kept Raikkonen on his toes.
"I think in France hopefully people will start liking Formula One again," said the first Frenchman on the podium since Jean Alesi in 1998 of a French F1 renaissance this season.
"I hope one day I can win and hear the Marseillaise and go forward from that. It's not an extra pressure. It's more like an extra power that you feel like your country is behind you."
He was quickest at last week's test at the Mugello circuit in Italy, further boosting expectations that Lotus will be competitive again this weekend.
"A few teams were really working on aerodynamics but we wanted to test some things on the suspension and we have been working a lot on it and I think we have got some of the answers we wanted," he said.
"Hopefully it will give us some advantage for the rest of the season."