While Romain Grosjean has firmly established himself among the Formula One elite, his path to the top has been as turbulent as it has been glittering. Few earn a second chance in F1 racing; Grosjean won a reprieve not only after a stunted introduction in 2009, but again three years later when several accused him of being an accident waiting to happen during his 2012 comeback. Grosjean’s redemption came on the track, as a series of blistering performances the following season underlined his ability and transformed his reputation.
The Frenchman now has several Grand Prix podiums to his name, and a burgeoning reputation as a team leader. Only wins and a full title challenge elude a man regarded in many quarters as a potential world champion in waiting.
Born in Geneva in 1986, Romain Grosjean still lives in the Swiss City but races under a French licence. He caught the motorsport bug relatively late and only started karting professionally in 2000, aged 14. From junior series to Formula ICA, his career followed the traditional route up the ranks to single-seater racing.
He got his big break in 2003, competing in the Swiss Formula Renault 1600 championship. Winning all ten rounds, and racking up ten fastest laps, he was in a league of his own and clinched the title with ease. His success saw him move up to French Formula Renault in 2004, and he made enough progress that season to finish seventh overall and to be named the second-best rookie.
He combined the French drive with a seat in the Euro Series. Contesting nine races, he ended the year 14th and returned to the series in 2005 to score two podiums and finish 12th overall. His second attempt at French Formula Renault that season also proved far more successful, with his 10 wins, 13 podiums, 10 poles and 211 points netting him the championship.
With two single-seater titles under his belt, Grosjean moved up to Formula Three in 2006, completing a full season of the Euro Series. Although he qualified as high as third on two occasions, his race results were less successful, with just one podium over 20 races, and he finished the championship 13th.
As in 2005, Grosjean also got the opportunity to flex his muscles in another series, competing in two British Formula Three races. Blowing away the competition, he took two poles and two victories. Appearances in the prestigious Masters and Macau races also boosted his reputation, as he clinched fifth-place finishes at both events.
By now he’d also secured a much-coveted place within Renault’s driver development programme, which provided some much-needed funding as he looked to spread his motorsport wings. But rather than moving on to a different category, Grosjean decided to stay for a second season in the Formula Three Euro Series for 2007.
Racing for ASM, he scored four pole positions, six podiums, and six race wins. Racking up 106 points, he took the title, 11 points clear of second-placed runner and current Toro Rosso driver, Sebastien Buemi. It wasn’t all good news, however, with a pole position at the Masters gleaning him just 14th place in the race.
Still, he’d done enough to graduate to GP2 in 2008. Tackling the inaugural GP2 Asia Series with ART, Grosjean clinched four wins from 10 races to take the title - once again beating Buemi to first place. He also won two races in the main GP2 Series and finished the season fourth, behind Giorgio Pantano, Bruno Senna and fellow Renault young driver Lucas di Grassi.
In 2008 he also became a Formula One test driver for Renault, taking over from Nelson Piquet, who had been promoted to a race seat. He got his first proper taste of F1 power in June, testing the R28 over 60 laps in Barcelona. He would make two further appearances as a test driver for the French team during July and was subsequently named as their third driver for the 2009 season.
Hoping to balance his F1 duties with a race seat, Grosjean also signed with the Barwa Addax for a second season of GP2. Although he took two wins and a further podium from the opening 12 races, he was also involved in some pretty spectacular collisions, including a big accident at Monaco which tore a large gash in his car.
But with Piquet’s race contract coming to a premature end in August 2009 following the Brazilian’s unsatisfying results, Renault decided to pick their protege Grosjean to fill the seat alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso for the remaining seven races of the season.
Grosjean, however, struggled to make the most of the opportunity and after failing to finish higher than 13th over his seven race appearances he was dropped for the 2010 season. It was bitter blow for the Frenchman, who decided to regroup away from F1, opting to tackle a variety of different series. Over the year he claimed the Auto GP championship, with four wins, seven podiums and three poles, two FIA GT wins and two GP2 podiums. He also competed in the Le Mans and Spa 24-hour races.
With his confidence boosted the 25 year-old returned to GP2 in 2011, winning both the Asian and main series after scoring six victories. He also rejoined Renault as a Formula One tester and took part in two Friday practice sessions in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
After those two successful outings the Renault team - now under new ownership and renamed Lotus - decided to give Grosjean another chance to race and signed him to partner Kimi Raikkonen for the 2012 season. The Frenchman’s pace was impressive from the off - he qualified third and sixth in Australia and Malaysia respectively, but on both occasions got embroiled in unnecessary race day tangles. Grosjean came good in Bahrain where he made full use of the Lotus E20’s inherent speed to finish third behind Sebastian Vettel and team mate Raikkonen. It was the first of three impressive podiums in 2012 (the others coming in Canada and Hungary), but sadly Grosjean’s comeback season will be remembered as much for his mistakes - such as causing the huge first-lap pile-up in Belgium that earned him a one-race ban - as it will for his obvious talent.
The 2013 campaign, however, saw Grosjean’s reputation transformed by a season of largely mature, measured - and fast - drives. These garnered six podium appearances, including an excellent second place in Austin, and he clearly outperformed world champion team mate Raikkonen in later races.
Not surprisingly Grosjean was retained by Lotus for 2014, but the season proved to be an unhappy one for both team and driver. Pre-season struggles manifested themselves in an uncompetitive car, and while Grosjean was able to hustle his way to eighth in Spain and Monte Carlo, they would be his only points scores of the year. In part buoyed by Lotus’s switch from Renault to Mercedes power for 2015, he nevertheless agreed to extend his deal with the team for a further season.
It would be his last with the Enstone-based squad. Despite some characteristically strong performances, including an excellent podium at Spa-Francorchamps, the uncertainty surrounding the team's future - prior to confirmation of their takeover by Renault - led Grosjean to jump ship for 2016 and gamble on a Ferrari-powered drive with the all-new American Haas team.