Having ended Q1 in a stunning P4 and Q2 in P6, Grosjean was looking the favourite to try and cause an upset against 'The Big Three' of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull in Q3. But on his first flying lap, he rumbled over the kerb at Turn 3, with the line seeming to unsettle the rear end of his Haas. The VF-18 ended up spinning into the wall, which is where it stayed after Grosjean then found that he couldn’t reverse out of the barriers.
So, basic driver error? Grosjean didn’t think so…
“We don’t know yet what happened,” he told the media. “Same braking point, same entry speed, it’s exactly the same as the previous lap, so there is no explanation. Same line, so I don’t really know what happened there.
“[Suddenly] the rear oversteered then the nose was stuck in the barrier, so I couldn’t reverse the car. If not, I think I could have come back to the pit, put a new front wing and go for it again.”
One explanation may have been the winds that often affect the Paul Ricard track, and which caught a few drivers out during Friday’s running, especially during Free Practice 1.
Either way, Grosjean was out of Q3, and will now start Sunday’s race in tenth place having failed to post a lap. There were positives, however, given that the Haas is clearly the fourth quickest car in France – although Kevin Magnussen added to the team's disappointment, only qualifying P9 behind the seventh-placed Renault of Carlos Sainz and the headline-grabbing eighth-placed Sauber of Charles Leclerc.
Magnussen said he didn't get a quick lap in as a result of being baulked by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in Q3. However, having investigated the incident, stewards decided no action was necessary.
Asked if he felt the two Haas cars could have locked out the fourth row of the grid behind the Mercedes, Ferraris and Red Bulls, Grosjean replied: “I think so, definitely.
“We had a second of a gap to Renault, which we should have in the race, so we’ll try to use that as much as we can to try to get them, overtake them, and the same thing with the Sauber, and hopefully get some good points.
“It’s the first time here, so we need to see how the first lap is going to go,” he added. “Obviously we want to finish the race. But if we get a good start, stay out of trouble then use the pace we’ve got, we should be nice at the end… To score my first points [of the season] in France would be nice.”
Grosjean could at least take some consolation that he was the highest placed Frenchman on the grid at Paul Ricard, with Esteban Ocon ending up in P11 for Force India, while Pierre Gasly, who had shown good pace during Friday’s practice sessions, had to settle for 14th in the Toro Rosso.