The change in Romain Grosjean and why the Frenchman is now one of F1's brightest stars
Sky Sports F1's commentary expert Mark Hughes explains how things have finally come together for F1's former wild child
By Mark Hughes. Last Updated: 15/10/13 1:00pm
One year ago Mark Webber stormed down to the Lotus paddock base at Suzuka to bawl out Romain Grosjean for ruining his race with a silly collision on the first lap, telling him he wasn't going to get to stay around in F1 if he didn't control himself better in the car.
Webber subsequently referred to him as "the first-lap nutcase". One year on Webber and Grosjean finished second and third after a terrific fight for virtually the whole of the race. This comes on the back of a super-competitive and consistent second half of the season for Grosjean and it's clear Lotus's former wild man has matured into one of the best drivers on the grid.
It has taken huge mental strength as well as a brutally honest re-assessment of himself. Just nine races ago, when he was repeatedly bouncing off the Monaco scenery in between going very fast, he looked as if he'd learned nothing from the disasters of 2012. It began to seem as if he was incapable of learning, and there was no apparent progression. But something seemed to click with him in the aftermath of that and since then he's barely put a wheel wrong, yet has regained the searing speed of his 2012 peaks.
'Unbelievable start' from Grosjean
Into the first half of this season he was invariably behind Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying and race. In the first eight races up to Silverstone he was out-qualified seven times. In the seven since then, he has out-qualified Raikkonen five times. "The tyre change that came after Silverstone definitely seemed to swap them around," says the team's on-track chief Alan Permane. "Romain is just quicker over one lap than Kimi on these tyres, yet on the previous tyres it was the other way around."
In the last two races that confidence has just fed on itself; Grosjean has been quick enough to take only prime tyres in Q1, this giving him two sets of options for Q3. By contrast, Raikkonen has felt the need to use up a set of options to ensure he got through Q1, leaving him relying on just a single run on options in Q3. This has just increased the natural pace advantage Grosjean already holds.
In Korea he had pulled 25 seconds out over Raikkonen in the race but this was neutralised by a safety car and when Grosjean made a small mistake on the restart, Raikkonen was able to pounce to take second place away from him.
Grosjean was upset about it in the car, and afterwards pointed out that they have internal rules about not fighting on track and that he several times had stood aside when instructed to allow Raikkonen a better chance of attacking the leader. He was disappointed that when the situation was reversed Raikkonen was not told to stand aside. That reflects a new-found confidence - and even as he is talking, a clarity of thought and of being on top of the job is apparent that was never there before.
What will Ferrari be making of this? The man signed to run alongside Alonso is being consistently out-performed by his current team-mate. Alonso in turn is being regularly out-qualified by his team mate, the departing Felipe Massa, though he invariably still beats him on race day.
Nothing stands still in F1, not technology, not the competitive shape and not driver performance. That is an inherent part of its fascination. Grosjean is part of a refreshing wind of change that the established guys are being forced to accept.