Sport : F1

Romain Grosjean

21st January 2015, 10:07am

Romain Grosjean had probably already thought he'd experienced it all in Formula 1 before the wreckage that was Lotus's 2014 season came along.

Having gone from sinner to saint over the previous 12 months to finally seemingly establish himself as one of the sport's front-runners, the radical turbo engine overhaul proved to be particularly unkind to Lotus, the unhappy marriage of a problematic Renault engine and E22 car sending the once title-winning Enstone team spiralling down the grid.

The effects were sobering for Grosjean: from six podiums and 132 points in 2013, the Frenchman scored no podiums and just eight points in 2014 - with even that meagre haul a relative achievement given his car was well off the pace from pre-season onwards.

Yet, there was a late silver lining to Lotus's year - a supply deal for the class-leading Mercedes engines for 2015, which leaves both team and driver optimistic that they will be back on the up in the new season.

Grosjean has certainly always had the raw speed to make a name for himself in the top echelons of the sport, something consistently displayed through the junior categories as the Swiss-born Frenchman made his way up the ladder through Formula Renault, Formula Three and, finally, GP2 in 2008-2009. Already test driver at Lotus (then Renault), he replaced the sacked Nelson Piquet Jr. for the final seven races of the 2009 season.

They were anything but successful, however, with Grosjean's best result being 13th place in Brazil. In his defence, however, the timing of the promotion was hardly ideal given the Enstone team were off the pace and soon embroiled in the fallout from the 'Crashgate' scandal which was instrumental in Piquet's departure.

Grosjean lost his seat but knuckled down and started looking for a way back. He spent 2010 trying to rebuild his reputation in the inaugural FIA GT1 World Championship and Auto GP, before returning to GP2 with the DAMS team, for whom he claimed the title the following year.

Not that he had been cast far into the wilderness after his first F1 foray: then Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier ran teams at DAMS and after also assuming managerial responsibility over his countryman, the way back was completed when Grosjean was named as Kimi Raikkonen's team-mate for 2012.

He qualified an impressive third on the grid at the season-opener in Melbourne but the race offered a sign of things to come when he collided with Pastor Maldonado on lap one. Podium finishes in Bahrain, Hungary and Canada - where Grosjean finished second - served as proof of his potential but the other side of the coin was amply demonstrated by more first-lap carnage in Malaysia, Spain, Monaco, Silverstone and Germany.

It was only after Grosjean caused a shunt of plane-crash proportions in Belgium that the authorities finally took action, suspending him from the next race in Italy. Vowing to mend his ways, his reputation instead took another beating in Japan when a collision with Mark Webber led the Australian to brand his assailant as a "first-lap nutcase".

It was this perception of Grosjean that held sway when Lotus opted to retain him, but Boullier's insistence that he would come good was upheld in 2013.

He made a slow start and there were a couple of hiccups along the way - a messy weekend in Monaco and a hectic Hungarian GP, which Romain could conceivably have won but instead finished sixth after a performance that lurched between the wonderful (his move on Felipe Massa, cruelly punished) and the worrying (a collision with Jenson Button) - but it all came good later in the season.

Grosjean led the pursuit of Sebastian Vettel for a large part of the German GP and later in the year often seemed best-placed to pick up the pieces should the four-time world champion ever falter. A lightning start thrust him into the lead of the Japanese GP, with second place in Austin his best result of the season.

While the subsequent dramatic change in engine regulations for 2014 always had the potential to shuffle the competitive pack, few would have predicted that Lotus would lose out to perhaps the greatest extent. Beset by reliability and integration problems with their Renault power unit right from their belated start to pre-season testing in Bahrain, Lotus arrived at race one Australia ill-prepared and off the pace and Grosjean and new team-mate Pastor Maldonado propped up the back of the grid before both retiring in the race.

Things did steadily improve thereafter and at the first race of the European season at Barcelona, Grosjean suddenly put the E22 a shock fifth on the grid, a position he held in the race before suffering a loss of power. Still, an eighth-place finish opened his and the team's points account at the fifth attempt and, when four more points arrived next time out in Monaco, it appeared a corner had been turned.

Alas, that turned out to be as good as things got for either driver or team as the Lotus failed to make any development breakthrough of note thereafter. The good news for Grosjean is that, with a Mercedes engine in the back of his 2015 Lotus, things should only get better.

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