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Romain Grosjean Q&A: Ferrari deal makes Haas ‘a calculated risk’

29 Oct 2015

With French car giant Renault seemingly on the verge of a Lotus takeover, there were a few raised eyebrows when French driver Romain Grosjean chose to jump ship for the all-new Haas team for next season. On the eve of his 2016 team mate being announced in Mexico, we spoke exclusively to Grosjean about his move and how it impacts his dream of one day becoming Formula One world champion…

Q: Romain, you will race for Haas in 2016. But you had also said that you would have liked to stay with Lotus - or whatever the name of the team will be - next season. How unhappy was the timing?

Romain Grosjean: That is not what I meant. I said that if Renault had come in January, February, even July - before the summer break - I would have probably stayed, but just before Monza I had a phone call from Guenther Steiner and Gene Haas and they explained to me their project and made me an offer. All of that was very exciting and from that point on I wanted to go there. It is not because Renault didn’t happen that I signed with Haas as a B-solution - it was not that at all. I thought to myself, ‘Gee, that could be interesting’. I met Gene and Guenther one evening - we shook hands - and the deal was done.

Q: Wouldn’t it have been a perfect match: Renault taking over and racing with a French driver?

RG: Yes, it would have sounded good. And yes, it is a bit unfortunate as it goes - being a French driver with Renault. But me moving to Haas doesn’t mean that I cannot come back one day - in three or four years’ time. Renault knows that they need some time to improve themselves. I have spent all my F1 career with Renault, so I think it would also make sense for them to then have a driver who has experience with a different power units - and a different team. That knowledge can only make me stronger. F1 is always something of getting the best out of the moment for your career - and now the best for me is to go to Haas and add new experience to my CV. Gene Haas has been very successful with Gene Haas Automation - a big company and world leader - and they came to NASCAR and won the title two times in the last four years. And for F1 they have created a partnership with Ferrari - probably the most famous team in F1. And with that background it was a very sexy offer to join them.

Q: Isn’t it a risk in terms of your career to join a brand new team?

RG: Life is a risk. Driving an F1 car is risky, racing is risky. So again: I spoke with Guenther and Gene - sure they didn’t tell me all the details about their project at the beginning, but it was good enough for me to sign with them. I could imagine that they will surprise - and an American team in F1 is big in itself. And with the Ferrari partnership it is a calculated risk.

Q: For Haas you are a huge gain - but for Lotus it is a big loss…

RG: I hope so. It was an intense relationship from the very beginning: in 2009 I got fired, then I came back, then I crashed a few times - then we had a good year. Then came 2014 and a dreadful season. Then we worked our way back to the Spa podium. I gave them a lot; they gave me a lot - for ten years of my life. But now it is good to have a new chapter. And as I said, there is always the option to come back - and becoming world champion with Enstone would be quite unique. Not now, but you never know.

Q: When you see the Lotus driver line-up for 2016 - Pastor Maldonado and rookie Jolyon Palmer - what do you make out it?

RG: I can’t make a comment about that. It is not my business.

Q: But it will be a difficult season for the team…

RG: Yes it will be difficult - also with the delay, that the team has to take not knowing about the future. Look back: the 2014 season was a disaster, then we fought our way back in 2015 - then I believe it will be a tough season for them again in 2016 and 2017, and probably they will bounce back in 2018. And then who knows what happens?

Q: Publically, there is still only the letter of intent from Renault to take over the Lotus team. To your knowledge, has the deal been done?

RG: I have no idea - and again, it’s none of my business.

Q: Isn’t time running out a bit? Lotus will again have to fit in a new engine…

RG: It’s a fact that it is not an ideal situation for Enstone. I think Mercedes is already supplying four teams, so I don’t think that they accommodate a fifth team…

Q: …wouldn’t it be marketing suicide, a Renault team running a Mercedes engine?
RG:
Would be interesting, very interesting.(laughs) But in the end you don’t know if it is going to be Renault. But I am no longer ‘in the know’ at Enstone. Not since I signed for Haas.

Q: But there is the letter of intent though…

RG: A letter of intent is something, but it is not the ‘real’ thing. I am hoping for the team that it survives - for all the great people who work there.

Q: How much do you already know of Haas Racing? Have you been to their US headquarters in Annapolis - or their British base, or Dallara or the Ferrari wind tunnel?

RG: I have been to Annapolis, yes - and I was in Los Angles to see Haas Automation. That is huge! I haven’t been yet to Banbury nor to Dallara, and I am not allowed at Maranello until the season is finished. But the moment the season is finished I will make a round trip and see what input I can give.

Q: You will have a new team mate - rumours have it that Esteban Gutierrez will be announced tomorrow…

RG: I don’t know. It is still hush hush.

Q: But what do you expect?

RG: I’ve had so many team mates in my F1 time - Alonso, Raikkonen, Maldonado - so bring on the next one. It is important that he is fast and helps to push the team forward - the rest I don’t care about.

Q: You said not too long ago that you still dream about a title win, so your signing with a new team looks like a bit of a detour. What do you expect?

RG: Well, first of all it is a new team without really being a new team, as they went to Ferrari saying that they want to buy as many parts as they can. And yes, I know that I will not win the title this year and not next year - but maybe later.

Q: Can a team like Haas ever fight for the title?

RG: First we have to get on the track and then climb the ladder: going into top ten, then top five, then podiums and then wins. I will help the team getting up to speed and scoring points and then who knows: maybe you get an offer from somewhere else - a world championship car - and you jump in and go for it. It’s all about opportunity.

Q: Three races to go - what will you take from them?

RG: Mexico will be awesome. The track seems super - and if you look at the grandstands and how many people they can take, and then knowing that it is sold out, that will make for a fantastic atmosphere. What will I do in my races? Give one hundred percent and whatever the car is capable of. It sometimes leads to a big crash, like in Russia! (laughs)