Romain Grosjean: The French Phoenix

Can a positive legacy be salvaged from the rubble of an ever tumultuous career?

Written by Ellie Bishop

June 24, 2021

The name Romain Grosjean is not a passive one. While it may not inspire the images of greatness that are called to mind at the mention of Sir Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher, it certainly still delivers an impact. Many will recall his final moments in F1, the blaze of fire after turn 3 of the Bahrain GP in 2020. A man, by some miracle, leaping from the flames and over a melted barrier, left with burns on his hands, but most importantly, his life. 

This exit from F1 seemed to prove a reputation handed to the French driver after one too many crashes and collisions throughout his nine years in the sport, but is it really fair or accurate to define Grosjean’s career by these events?

 

At the age of 17, Grosjean began his professional racing career in 2003, winning all ten rounds of the Formula Lista Championship in Switzerland. In 2004, he came seventh in the Formula Renault Eurocup. These results showed enough potential for him to be drafted into the Renault Driver Development program, allowing him to compete in French Formula Renault in 2005, which he convincingly won in his rookie season. In 2006, he graduated to the Formula Three Euro Series, coming 13th. However, it wasn’t until the following year that his potential materialized into results by winning the Formula Three Euro Series. His move to GP2 came in 2008, again showing more promise by winning the GP2 Asia Series. 

 

Romain Grosjean’s first stint in Formula One came in 2009. Unfortunately, it was not the most glorious year, being eliminated in Belgium after a collision with Jenson Button and damaging the car at the Italian GP. While Grosjean did not end up keeping his seat, he stayed on as a test driver for Pirelli. In 2010, he returned to GP2 and Auto GP, coming first overall in the latter. 2011 also saw significant success for Grosjean in GP2, winning both the Europe and Asia Series. It is unusual for drivers to experience such immediate success in GP2, with most taking two to three seasons before becoming champions. As such, this was enough to get him back inside the cockpit of an F1 car. 

Photo via @RGrosjean on Twitter

From 2012 to 2015, Grosjean drove for the Lotus F1 Team achieving ten podiums and finishing with a career-high 7th place in 2013. After the sale of Lotus back to Renault in 2015, Grosjean moved to the newly formed American team, Haas, in 2016. Grosjean’s stint at Haas yielded less success. However, in their debut year, Grosjean finished sixth at the Australian GP, making Haas the first team since Toyota Racing to finish so high at their opening GP. His 2017 season with Haas was plagued by retirements, for example, in Australia, Hungary, and Russia. 2018 also proved to be a difficult season, with multiple crashes, including behind the safety car in Azerbaijan. From 2019 onwards, the Haas cars were plagued with reliability issues, resulting in retirements and lost places. In fact, of the 98 races in which Grosjean competed with Haas, he did not start or was retired from 23 of them.

 

It is true to say that Grosjean has been involved in his fair share of racing collisions, accidents, and incidents. Mark Webber once described him as the “first-lap nutcase” in an interview with Sky TV F1. At the 2012 Belgian GP, his pile-up caused him to be the first man since Eddie Irvine in 1994 to receive a race ban due to dangerous driving. A particularly memorable collision at the 2013 Monaco GP race, where he launched himself over the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, causing both drivers to retire, even prompted Martin Brundle to comment, “He worries me, that boy.”

 

This penchant for what one could at times describe as an ‘alternative driving strategy’ came to a head during the 2019 season after one too many collisions and instances of in-fighting with his teammate Kevin Magnussen. After their race-ending collision at Silverstone, the team stated that “The best that our drivers could bring to the battle was a shovel – to dig the hole we are in even deeper.” Even before the crash in Bahrain, by the 2020 season, both Grosjean and Magnussen’s seats at Haas were looking perilous. It is perhaps an indictment of both their careers that Haas chose to employ two rookies, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, respectively, in their place. Although, it is becoming increasingly clear that experience no longer wins in the battle against financial stability. 

The legacy of Grosjean’s career inside an F1 race car has to be one of survival. After the 2020 season and the unfortunate events in Bahrain, many commented that the true winner was Grosjean, simply for walking away with his life. The implications of this in regards to safety are now being felt as the 2021 season unfolds. 

 

Outside of the car, Grosjean has been more successful at garnering respect. In May 2017, Romain Grosjean replaced Jenson Button as one of the directors of the GPDA following his retirement. During his time as a director, Grosjean constantly pushed for changes to improve the sport’s safety. However, it is interesting to note that in 2017 Grosjean did not initially support the introduction of the Halo, stating that he hoped that it was “just a transition phase.” After his Bahrain crash, Grosjean noted that he was grateful for the safety measure and is now one of the biggest proponents for safety in motorsport. 

 

Grosjean’s stint as a GPDA director has not been without criticism. In 2020, when the ‘End Racism’ campaign, involving taking the knee before the beginning of each race, was introduced, Sir Lewis Hamilton criticized Grosjean for not encouraging consistency among the drivers regarding kneeling. “He doesn’t think it is important to do it,” Hamilton said. “He’s one of them that thinks that it was done once, and that’s all we need to do. I tried to speak to him about what the problem is, and it’s not going away, and we have to continue to fight for it. I think this time he didn’t mention anything in the drivers’ briefing, and neither did Sebastian [Vettel].” Grosjean did not respond to this.

 

Following his departure from F1, Grosjean nominated Williams driver George Russell in his stead as GPDA director, stating that he was “the right guy” to introduce a younger, newer perspective.

 

Russell shares many of the same values that Grosjean had as GPDA director, including openness about the importance of mental health. Romain Grosjean has not been afraid to speak on how racing had affected his mental health, even at one point going to therapy to help his mentality. When not many drivers talked about the toll the sport takes on their minds, Grosjean was willing to open up, which was inspiring to not only fans, but surely young racers who realized it was ok to need help. 

 

While the later years of his career may skew people’s perception of his true talent, it is impossible to deny that he has raw speed and more to show us. Romain Grosjean now finds himself driving in the Indycar 2021 Series in the US. He joined the series in tandem with Dale Coyne Racing and Rick Ware Racing. So far, his greatest success has been earning his first pole position at the GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, ending up finishing second in the race. He recently finished 5th at the Rev Group Grand Prix after starting 7th. Hopefully, his success in the American series will bring Grosjean back to the forefront of people’s minds and remind them of what he can accomplish. 

Photo via @RGrosjean on Twitter

If we can learn anything from the French racing driver, it is that despite the horrors which can be endured when racing goes wrong, his passion for the sport has never waned. Grosjean has been a familiar fixture of motorsport for many years, and his move to Indycar signals the beginning of a new chapter. A fierce family man (his Indycar helmet is decorated with drawings done by his children) and ever the cheerful and friendly face in the paddock, Grosjean may not have the cleanest race record. Still, his name will not be forgotten easily.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of Ellie’s earliest memories growing up is watching formula 1 on television with her Dad. She recently graduated the University of Manchester studying Latin and English Literature. Currently, she is interning full time for a major British news publication as a junior editor. Ellie is particularly interested in the marketing and management side of motorsports. She also spends her time singing in choirs and visiting the latest London art exhibitions! You can find her on twitter at @zephyrellie.

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