Sport : F1

Romain Grosjean

7th March 2014, 11:50am

Romain Grosjean: from sinner to saint? A little over-stated, perhaps, but one gets the drift. The turnaround in the Frenchman's reputation in 2013 was quite something, but can he maintain his progress next season when the pressure will be even more intense?

By the sounds of it, pressure - how Grosjean deals with it, more to the point - has been his downfall in the past, particularly during 2012, when the Frenchman's obvious speed was all-too-often outweighed in general perception by his propensity to collide, often with spectacular results, with other drivers.

It was a weakness that led Lotus to think long and hard about whether to retain him, yet Grosjean has worked hard to address it and the fact he is now seen as the team's de-facto number one driver for 2014 shows just how far the 27-year-old has come in the last 12 months.

That raw speed was consistently displayed through the junior categories as Swiss-born Grosjean 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: 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 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.

So why the turnaround? The decision to use a psychologist has undoubtedly benefited while fatherhood (a son was born in July 2013) has also helped calm him down. Grosjean has admitted pushing too hard in the past - in his words "dancing too fast for the music" - and it will be interesting to see how he handles the greater responsibility Lotus are placing on his shoulders by partnering him with Maldonado this season.

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