Lotus Renault have announced that Romain Grosjean will occupy their second race seat in 2012. The French driver will partner 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen.
The announcement comes after weeks of speculation regarding Lotus Renault’s driver line-up. Robert Kubica recently announced that he would not be available for the beginning of the season, which raised the question of who would drive the second car. Grosjean’s appointment means that 2011 Renault drivers Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna are now searching for teams for 2012.
Grosjean has driven in Formula 1 before, when he partnered Fernando Alonso at Renault for the last 7 races of 2009. Grosjean did not impress during that season, and was dropped for 2010. He subsequently competed in the FIA GT1 series briefly before winning the 2010 Auto GP (previously called Formula 3000) championship. In 2011, he comfortably won the GP2 championship, showing that he has developed strongly as a driver since his first attempt at Formula 1.
The past 2 seasons have been quite tumultuous for Lotus Renault. They have used 4 drivers (Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna), which has not been ideal. The team needs continuity to develop and that is something that has definitely been lacking recently.
Lotus Renault have gone for a mix of youth and experience for 2012. Kimi Räikkönen has been around for a long time and won a World Championship. Romain Grosjean has proven himself in the lower single-seater categories. It looks like a combination that can take Lotus Renault forward, as long as they put in the time to make it work.
Lotus Renault GP have already filled one seat for 2012, with Kimi Räikkönen coming out of retirement. The other seat is a matter of much speculation.
Russian Vitaly Petrov has a contract for 2012 that gives him a race seat. He also comes with substantial sponsorship. In his 2 seasons with Renault he has stood on the podium, and generally looks to have developed as a Formula 1 driver. However, Renault have not yet confirmed that he will drive in 2012, which of course suggests that he might not. If his place in the team were already decided, Renault would have announced it already. So Petrov’s position is in doubt.
Bruno Senna has driven for Renault for the last 8 races of the 2011 season. His performances have been mixed, but he has shown that he has the speed to compete at the highest level. He does not have a contract to race in 2012, but will be hoping that his 2011 performances will assist him in finding one.
Romain Grosjean raced for Renault in 7 races of the 2009 season. In that time, his highest finish was 13th, and his performances were unmemorable. It was thought that he might be a bit inexperienced to compete in Formula 1. After the disappointment of 2009, he returned to GP2 (Formula 1’s primary feeder series) and won the 2011 title comfortably. Renault signed him up as a reserve driver towards the end of 2011, which shows that they think he has developed as a driver. He is a strong contender for the race seat alongside Räikkönen.
It is quite unfortunate that these three drivers seem to be in competition for a single seat. All three have Formula 1 experience, speed and skill. But of course Renault can only choose one. Will it be Petrov with some experience and sponsorship, Senna with his amazing racing pedigree, or Grosjean with his recent GP2 form? Renault have stated that they will make an announcement by 10 December. We can only wait til then to find out.