It has been quite the couple weeks for Lotus driver Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman has not only been the hot topic in the Haas F1 Team’s latest news – being the first confirmed driver for the American team in its debut season in 2016 – but entered the Russian Grand Prix weekend with interesting ideas and a big unknown for race day.
During Friday practice day, Jolyon Palmer once again made an appearance for Lotus in FP1 in the Frenchman’s place. Rain further disturbed his on-track duties in FP2, as the team decided to not send him out for any laps.
The lack of track time made room for some colorful thinking from the 29-year-old – specifically on how fan-friendly (or not) Friday practice days are for the fans. Grosjean nominated the MotoGP championship, where the two-wheeled series focuses on a more playful Friday centered more toward fan enjoyment.
“If you put us [drivers] all in a go-kart,” Grosjean schemed, “we would be laughing like crazy because we are passionate about driving, and having fun.”
Grosjean was also asked about possible seat time in a NASCAR stock car as Gene Haas, team owner of Haas F1 Team, is a successful owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with two championships in the last four years.
“I sat in the car, the NASCAR Kurt Busch car at the shop,” Grosjean said Friday. “It looks big. There is something on the right-hand side, you’re not sitting in the middle. So I told the guys if you give me a go just make sure this spot is strong because I may hit some walls.”
The test would not be uncharted territory for Formula 1 drivers. Kimi Räikkönen made two NASCAR starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2011, though the 2007 World Champion was not active in F1 at the time.
“I think it would be quite special and quite unique to have a Formula 1 driver currently racing going to a NASCAR. Let me have a go and then I’ll tell you,” Grosjean added.
Once Saturday began, the joking was put to the side as Grosjean finally got some on-track time in FP3. Running 13 laps, Grosjean hit a personal best lap of 1:42.371, ending the sessions thirteenth on the charts.
In Qualifying, Grosjean overcame his lack of mileage and made Q3 for the sixth consecutive race, advancing to the top 10 and ending the session eighth-fastest.
“It was the first undisruptive (sic) session of the weekend,” Grosjean said after qualifying. “It was a bit of an unknown going into quali. We pushed hard, went to Q3 as was the plan and in Q3 we tried to push pretty hard to be as high as we could on the grid. I think P8 was probably close to the best we could do so [I’m] pretty happy with that.”
Lotus had a strong outing two weeks ago at Japan as both Grosjean and second-year teammate Pastor Maldonado finished in the points, only the second time the team has accomplished the feat in 2015.
However, the race start on Sunday kicked off with a bang for Grosjean as the Force India machine of Nico Hülkenburg spun in Turn 1, swallowing up Marcus Ericsson and Max Verstappen. Grosjean suffered small damage to the font wing with contact with the other Force India of Sergio Pérez and restarted at the tail of the field after pitting for a new nose.
Making passes, Grosjean advanced to thirteenth place by Lap 11. The progress was soon terminated on the next lap as he appeared to grip at the loaded right-rear side through Turn 3 and spun into the barriers. The contact was vicious, spinning the Lotus around and ripping the right-side bodywork clean from the car.
Grosjean walked away unharmed and praised the sport’s continued focus on improving driver safety.
“I’m good,” he said following the wreck, his third DNF in the last five races. “I think tomorrow morning will be a bit tough to get out of the bed.
“I’m glad for the good Bell helmet, good HANS device – we’ve made so much progress in the recent years that you can hit the barriers really hard and still come and speak [to the media]. We wanted to score points today but we will have to investigate what happened.”
Grosjean now sits tenth in the Drivers’ Championship standings as teammate Pastor Maldonado tied his best finish with the Enstone team after getting promoted to seventh thanks to a time penalty for Kimi Räikkönen.
“I think we need to understand what happened,” Grosjean concluded. “Because it was normally an easy corner and suddenly the rear end went and couldn’t recover it. Just had to wait until I was going to hit the wall.”
Although the week ended with an unfortunate bang, Grosjean now heads to Circuit of the Americas – the track he finished a career-tying best second in 2013 – in two weeks’ time.
Images via Lotus F1 Team