Romain Grosjean is the 2012 Champion of Champions, after triumphing against a host of enormous names in motorsport. Grosjean defeated eight-time Le Mans 24-Hour winner Tom Kristensen 2-0 in the final of the individual competition.
There is no easy path to victory at the Race of Champions – with the best of the best from all motorsport disciplines competing, every race is tough and each victory along the way hard-earned. But Grosjean had, if anything, the most difficult possible path to the final. In the group stages, he was up against seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher, current Indycar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and RoC Asia runner-up Kazuya Ohshima. Despite losing narrowly to Schumacher, Grosjean beat Hunter-Reay and Ohshima to proceed to the knock-out stages.
After the group stages, Grosjean’s path to victory became even more difficult. He was matched up against current triple Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the third quarter final, and was arguably not expected to proceed to the semi-finals. But an uncharacteristic error from Vettel – which shows just how hard he had to push against Grosjean – meant the German crashed out, and set-up a Grosjean-Schumacher semi-final. Grosjean avenged his earlier defeat to Schumacher by knocking the legendary German out of the competition.
The final was a best of three affair between Grosjean and Tom Kristensen. Kristensen had beaten last year’s winner Sebastian Ogier and former Formula One driver David Coulthard en route to the final, proving his speed in the process. But he was no match for Grosjean, who needed only two heats to seal his victory and become 2012 Champion of Champions.
After a mixed season in Formula One – with three podiums, a number of crashes and a race ban for causing a pile-up at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix – Grosjean was relieved to end the year with a victory. The young Frenchman said, “That’s what I’d call a crazy day! It got a bit tough in the group stages but I managed to make it through. Then I had to face Sebastian Vettel in the quarter-final before Michael Schumacher in the semi-final – the two Germans who beat us in yesterday’s RoC Nations Cup final. Then I had the final with Tom. We’ve had a good history at this event and I’ve raced him before so it was good to face him in the final. I got a bit of extra luck to be in the right car at the right time but it felt good.
“It’s been a tough end to the F1 season but I finally got back on the podium yesterday, and now this! It’s great to get this win before I head off for a holiday. Thanks to everyone in Thailand because the welcome has been fantastic.”
Grosjean has not yet been confirmed at Lotus for the 2013 Formula One season, but will be hoping for a favourable announcement from his team soon.
At the start of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean veered sharply to the right-hand side of the track, pushing Lewis Hamilton onto the grass and triggering an accident that saw Grosjean’s Lotus launch over the back of Sergio Perez’s Sauber and very nearly connect with Fernando Alonso’s head. The stewards handed Grosjean a one-race ban and a hefty fine, which he accepted without argument.
From a spectator point of view, the incident was terrifying. It looked at first glance as though Alonso had taken a blow to the helmet, which would almost certainly have been fatal. Fortunately, that was not the case and everyone walked away from the crash apparently uninjured. But the crash highlighted the dangers involved in single-seater racing, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of irresponsible driving.
The greatest safety risk in open-cockpit racing is the driver’s head, as it is exposed and therefore vulnerable to direct impact. In 2009, Felipe Massa suffered a near-fatal accident in which a spring from another car hit his helmet. Massa was in critical condition for some time and spent the second half of the season recovering before returning to Formula One in 2010. Also in 2009, Henry Surtees was killed in a Formula Two race when a wheel from another crashed car hit him on the head.
Considering the dangers involved, a certain amount of caution is required from drivers. Races are not generally won and lost in the first corner (except perhaps at Monaco, as David Coulthard pointed out during his BBC commentary on Sunday), and so it is fairly obvious that surviving the start should be a priority to any driver.
Grosjean’s aggressive move across the track was anything but cautious. It was also unnecessary. A more gradual move across the track would have given Hamilton more time to react, and Grosjean could have made the corner in a good position. In Grosjean’s defense, it must be admitted that the drivers have limited peripheral vision, due to high cockpit sides that assist in driver head and neck protection. He claimed that he thought he was already completely past Hamilton. He was not, but perhaps he could not see that. In any event, if he thought he was that far ahead, then why the aggressive move?
Considering the potentially disastrous consequences of his on-track conduct, Grosjean’s one-race ban is certainly appropriate. There are also likely to be consequences within the team, as he caused an enormous amount of costly damage to the car and is now unable to race at the next round, which will affect his team’s efforts in the Constructors’ Championship.
Grosjean will now have some time on the sidelines to reflect on the incident. He has an opportunity to show his maturity by returning to the grid in Singapore more composed and controlled. In any event, he will certainly be sorry to be sitting out the next race at Monza. No racing driver likes to watch his car get raced by someone else.
For 2012, Lotus signed two drivers who had last driven in Formula One in 2009. Kimi Raikkonen was already a World Champion, in 2007, and had a wealth of previous Formula One experience. Romain Grosjean had driven in only seven Grands Prix, finishing five times and scoring no points.
It was obvious at the start of the season that Raikkonen was expected to lead the team. Grosjean was meant to be the rookie, there to learn and develop with the guidance of his more successful team-mate. The season has not quite worked out like that.
After seven races, Raikkonen is two points ahead of Grosjean in the Drivers’ Championship. But consider that Raikkonen has finished every race, where Grosjean has crashed out three times. Grosjean is averaging 13.25 points per finish, compared to a fairly lowly figure of 7.86 for Raikkonen. In fact, Grosjean’s performance when he crosses the finish line surpasses that of championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who averages 12.57 points per finish.
Raikkonen has struggled to get comfortable in the car, having issues in particular with the steering wheel. Grosjean has been quick from the outset, and looks more at ease with every passing race. Neither Lotus driver has stood on the top step of the podium in 2012, but with a car as quick as the E20, the first win cannot be far away. The question is: who will be the winning driver? At the moment, Grosjean may be a better bet.
Romain Grosjean is a very exciting talent in Formula One. The young Frenchman destroyed all competition in GP2 last year, and has been blindingly quick in Formula One so far this season. However, three non-finishes have cost him valuable points, and he is only eighth in the championship, 16 points behind his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Grosjean qualified an impressive third for the Australian Grand Prix, but made a poor start and then crashed out in the early stages while defending vigorously. In Malaysia, early contact with Michael Schumacher was followed by a spin which put Grosjean in the gravel and out of the race. His last race in Monaco didn’t even last a corner, as contact with Alonso and Schumacher after another slow start resulted in a broken rear suspension.
Three DNFs out of six races means he has lost out on a substantial haul of points. If he had finished every race at his current average of points per finish, he would currently be fourth in the standings on 70 points, just six points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso.
If Grosjean can keep his nose clean, he has shown that he has the pace to compete at the front. All that is required is a measure of patience to stay out of trouble early on in the races.
Lotus have a quick car. That much is obvious. In the hands of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, the Lotus E20 occupied the lower two-thirds of the podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Grosjean qualified third in Australia. Both drivers have looked fast all season. But it bears considering that neither Raikkonen nor Grosjean was on on the grid last year. They’re both taking some time to get acclimatized to Formula One in 2012.
Lotus are competing with McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. Each of those teams has had a stable driver line-up for at least two seasons, but Lotus has an all-new driver pairing for this 2012. Raikkonen and Grosjean have only worked with the team and each other for a few months. By contrast, Vettel and Webber have been team-mates in a largely unchanged Red Bull team since 2009.
Team principal Eric Boullier is impressed with his young French driver, saying of Grosjean, “He has the speed and the talent to be world champion one day.” Raikkonen, champion in 2007, has already proven his winning ability. The technical team produced a solid car in 2010, and an ambitious but ultimately unsuccesfful challenger in 2011. The 2012 car seems so far to be fast and reliable in all conditions.
So it seems logical that there is more to come from Lotus. A fast car, a previous champion and a quick young driver makes for a competitive package. We can expect to see a black and gold car win a race this season.
Lewis Hamilton has taken pole for the first Grand Prix of the year in Australia. Team-mate Jenson Button is alongside him on the front row, underlining the pace of the McLaren MP4-27.
The big surprise of the day is third-placed Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman put in a stunning lap to be less than four tenths off Hamilton’s pace. Team-mate Raikkonen made an error right at the end of Q1, which meant he did not make it through to the next part of qualifying. Raikkonen starts 18th, and will have a lot of work to do to get a decent result.
Mercedes continued to impress with Schumacher fourth, just three hundredths of a second behind Grosjean. Team-mate Nico Rosberg made a mistake in the last sector of his last flying lap, which cost him some time. He will start seventh, behind the Red Bull pair of Vettel and Webber.
Ferrari are the big disappointment of the weekend so far. Neither of the red cars made it into Q3. Massa was simply not quick enough, and Alonso spun into the gravel trap at turn 1 after putting a wheel on the grass under braking. The rear-end of the Ferrari looks very unstable, which makes the car impossible to drive on the limit. Thus far, it seems the radical design of the F2012 is not paying off.
Williams look a lot stronger than they did in 2011. Pastor Maldonado starts 9th, with Bruno Senna 14th. Hopefully this result is an indication of good things to come. Caterham have also made a step forward, although it’s not enough to put them among the midfield runners yet. Kovalainen and Petrov will start 19th and 20th. Marussia are 21st and 22nd, which is expected, and HRT are unlikely to qualify after both drivers were outside the 107% time in Q1.
The order has very much been shaken up over the winter, which makes for a very exciting start to the season. The race starts at 8am South African time tomorrow. Everything is in place for a thrilling race.