There couldn’t be a more graphic transformation of a driver’s fortunes than those of Romain Grosjean who was praised by Mark Webber after Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, a year after Webber called the Frenchman a “first-lap nutcase” for a series of first and second lap incidents.
At the time, Webber described Grosjean’s driving as “embarrassing” after the Lotus driver T-boned the Red Bull in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix. However, Lotus kept faith in Grosjean and despite a difficult start to this season, the Frenchman has come good.
Second place in Austin, Texas, having held off a determined Webber for much of the race, was his fourth podium in five races and sixth in total in the season.
Grosjean’s confidence is building all the time, especially since it emerged that he would be the number one driver at the team next season following Kimi Raikkonen’s departure to Ferrari. That has been reflected on the track, where he is arguably Vettel’s closest challenger at the moment.
Speaking about Grosjean, Webber told BBC Radio 5 live: “As a competitor and fellow colleague, it’s nice to earn each other’s respect. Obviously last year, he didn’t have much because of the way he was driving. He was making a lot of mistakes in practice and a lot of contact in the races. Now it’s a different ball game.
“He’s putting a weekend together which starts on Friday and not just a few good times on Friday followed by a crash, a good qualifying lap then out on the first corner in the race. So hopefully for him, those days are over and he can have a good career as he’s had a tough start but he’s come out the other side.”
Grosjean said: “Last year wasn’t a nice time. I was the first one who wasn’t happy with myself and it doesn’t help when you’re reading in the press or other drivers are blaming you for things you don’t like to do. But then I worked hard, it’s no secret I have a psychologist. I really like the work we do and I think I’m a better man and a better driver.
“It’s nice to hear (good things) from them (the other drivers) but mainly I’m proud of what I have done. In tough circumstances, if I had lost confidence, I would have given up, but I didn’t. Even the start of this year was tough, but I managed to turn the situation around. I’m sure the race win will come.”
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier says Grosjean is maturing as a driver and should be considered as one of the front-runners.
“We’ve always known Romain is super fast, actually maybe too fast, and sometimes too fast for his car,” said Boullier. “Having some completeness with his family [he became a dad for the first time earlier this year] has helped him reach another level of confidence, and then you see the results on track.
“He is starting to be a damned good driver. I think you can rate him in the top three or four today. He started to perform well from Germany onwards. There was still a bit finetuning needed on his side, but he has had a very fine second half of the season.
“Now he will start next year in a different mood, and we will have a different perspective from him. [The change] is a combination between him [Raikkonen] leaving and his personal life being settled, which brought him a lot of confidence. That was maybe the kick he needed to take off.”
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