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Pre-Abu Dhabi analysis - Grosjean a winner in waiting 01 Nov 2013

Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 31 October 2013 Olivier Panis (FRA) Ligier JS43 came from fourteenth on the grid to take his first ever GP victory. Monaco Grand Prix, Rd 6, Monte Carlo, Monaco, 19 May 1996. World ©  Sutton Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 31 October 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race Day, Sunday, 27 October 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race Day, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 13 October 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race Day, Sunday, 27 October 2013

The last Frenchman to win a Grand Prix was Olivier Panis, who triumphed so unexpectedly for Ligier in Monaco back in 1996. Romain Grosjean is very well aware of this. With three consecutive podiums beneath his wheels with third places for Lotus in Korea, Japan and India, he is in the greatest form of his F1 life, finally living up to all the promise he displayed in GP2, and he senses that his day may be close.

“We did not even think about racing them before the race and the strategy says that our target was Lewis,” he smiled after Japan, where he led the Red Bulls after a brilliant hole-shot start, “so for us it was a pretty good race and for sure being ahead in the first corner helps quite a lot but we did a very good job to come back from a disaster Friday to have a very good Saturday and Sunday.

“Honestly, I thought it was the day that the first victory was coming. But on the option tyre I struggled a little bit but then I could pull away from Mark [Webber] and I said ‘Our car is beautiful today, it’s gonna be good,’ and then Mark pitted earlier than what we thought, we fitted the prime tyres and the degradation was not the same anymore and it was making it harder to drive. Then it was a bit of a shame to lose the second position to Mark but never mind, I think the positives that I gained outweighed all that. We were challenging them and that counts for us.

“I think maybe the thing we needed to win was a little bit of pace on the hard tyre. We covered Mark on the first stop. It was two laps shorter than what we thought and then again, the second stop was just a little bit earlier than we thought because of the tyres’ age and so on. And I think we missed Friday, so we had to do a long run in FP3 to know how the tyres were going because from Friday we had no information from our long runs, we really struggled with the car, so we lost that information that we are normally pretty good on. Today the hard tyres didn’t behave as we expected and before the race, honestly, we said we’ll start on option but then what’s going on in the second stint, we didn’t know if we had to fit option or prime and it was just an unknown.

“We said in the strategy meeting that we never thought that we could beat the Red Bulls. So we are where we expected to be. Just sometimes, it’s a little bit of everything. Today was not the luck missing, it was not the start, the driving, it was just a little bit of pace from the car.”

Praise for him came from no less than Sebastian Vettel that day.

“I think he drove a fantastic race today,” the then three-time world champion said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of can he beat me… he beat me last year at the Race of Champions, when I put the car in the wall! I think it’s not a matter of that. I think he did a great job, great performance all weekend I think, great qualifying yesterday, out-qualified Kimi [Raikkonen]. We know that Kimi is a strong driver. Last year I think Romain made some mistakes but the most important thing is that we learn from these mistakes as drivers so I think he learned a lot of things and gradually he’s improving, so big respect for that.”

India brought an even better performance, with his drive from 17th on the grid to third. “It was certainly one of our best races,” he grins, “after we misjudged our runs in qualifying, but we took the right decision on strategy for the race and after 13 laps on the option tyres I made the prime tyres last 47 laps with some quick cars around me.

“It was fantastic to lead the race in Japan, and actually the last four races have been pretty good, so I’m just keeping on trying to improve myself.”

So what’s made the bad boy of 2012 the star of the second half of 2013? What’s been the key to the dramatic turnaround?

“There’s been no real key,” he says. “Some things have changed but the work started a year ago and I’m just trying to improve myself day after day. The start of the year was poor, but the car has been getting better and better. I was unlucky before Germany but since then there have been some very good races and hopefully it will stay that way to the end of the year.

“Also, Kimi is a great, a very good team mate, quick and consistent, and having him there to help me learn and improve has been very good.”

It remains to be seen whether the luck will run with him long enough to make him the latest Frenchman to win a Grand Prix, but right now he’s a man in form, and he would thoroughly deserve it were his planets finally to align fully.

David Tremayne

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