Romain Grosjean's future looks secure after a starring role in the Japanese GP
Blistering start leads to podium finish for improving Frenchman
By Mike Wise at Suzuka. Last Updated: 14/10/13 7:56am
Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier has hinted that Romain Grosjean's future with the team is all but assured after his starring role in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.
Starting fourth on the grid, Grosjean made the perfect getaway and held his nerve to lead Red Bull pair Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel into the first corner. The Frenchman was gradually overhauled, first by eventual race winner Vettel and then by Webber, who started from pole but lost out to his team-mate after running a three-stop strategy.
Grosjean, who two-stopped like Vettel, had no answer to what was another crushing Red Bull display. Yet with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen forced to play a supporting role for once on a Sunday - the Finn finished a distant fifth, almost forty seconds behind - the 27-year-old made the most of the spotlight on the track where, following their collision in last year's race, Webber had famously branded him a "first-lap nutcase".
Twelve months ago, there were calls for Grosjean to be sacked; now he's seen within Lotus as a potential team leader. But first things first: what's the contract situation?
"I need to get the written permission of my board but then we'll see," Boullier said. "Romain already has a contract with us for next year. He just has options to be taken up, so we have to do it in a few days I think."
Boullier was vague on the deadline for the option, stretching to "a couple of weeks". And yet, after a strong run of form reaching back to the start of the summer, surely it's now only a matter of when it will be exercised.
There was already a feeling before Sunday's race that the Grosjean jigsaw was taking shape nicely and his lightning start and confident early lead were the latest pieces to fit into place. "Yeah, it was probably one of the best," he said after the race. "When I dropped the clutch I said, 'Whoah, whoah, that's a good one, come on, come on go for it'. Amazing."
Leading for the first half of the race, Grosjean's pace tailed off after he switched to the hard compound tyre at his first stop. Passed by Vettel on lap 41, Webber tried and failed several times before eventually getting past himself two laps from home.
The biggest piece of the jigsaw will have to wait, then, but Grosjean hardly seemed deflated standing next to the Red Bull pair on the podium. "We did not even think about racing them before the race and the strategy says that our target was Lewis (Hamilton)," he said.
And finally, the cherry on top of the cake: a re-assessment by Webber, as blunt as last year's but rather more glowing this time. "I think it's very clear that Romain has a very different mental approach to the job this year," the Australian said. "He's driven some strong races, putting together the whole weekend which is a sign of a driver starting to get a bit more relaxed and confident.
"You know, we're not here to blow smoke up his a*se but in the end he's doing a very good job this year and it's a big step for him."