At this point, through 83 races, more than 3800 laps and 287 career points, Romain Grosjean and the Lotus F1 Team seem like a natural pair for any follower of Formula 1.
However, following Sunday’s season finale at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Grosjean climbed from the Lotus E23 Hybrid for the final time as he eyes his next challenge in 2016, joining the newly formed American Haas F1 Team.
“It’s the first time in my career I’ve had to change teams in Formula 1,” Grosjean said during Thursday’s FIA press conference, “so it’s something new. The first time I get to Enstone was September 2005. I learned everything from there.”
Since his first Grand Prix in 2009, Grosjean has done his fair share of learning as the Frenchman overcame negatives such as becoming the first driver to be suspended for a race in nearly 20 years his role in the Turn 1 pile-up at Spa-Francorchamps in 2012.
To join the dark times, Lotus was the home in which Grosjean used to showcase his own talent, contending for multiple poles and race victories in 2013 and returning for one last podium at Spa in 2015.
“Switching off the car on Sunday, jumping out of the E23 and thinking that was the last race with the team is certainly [going to be] quite hard,” Grosjean added.
“On the other hand, I really want to push hard all weekend long to score good points, do a good result, thank the guys for all the support through tough times, better times as well.
“I think we did both learn from those years. It was a nice experience, very much looking forward to the next one as well which will be very exciting with Haas.”
The farewell weekend began in FP2 for Grosjean who finished the session fifteenth-fastest with a best lap of 1:43.929 seconds. Saturday’s final practice session ended in the same position on the timesheets, with a time just 0.001 seconds quicker than FP2.
With teammate Pastor Maldonado a few tenths ahead in each session, Grosjean entered Saturday qualifying as a likely candidate to be eliminated early on. Troubles for the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso ensures he breezed into Q2, and suddenly he even fancied himself for another top-ten result.
The momentum soon delivered another bitter aftertaste as he stopped on track with a broken gearbox in Q2, forcing him to start from the rear of the field for Sunday’s 55-lap event after it was changed overnight.
“It’s a shame because we struggled all weekend long,” he said after qualifying, “and had a really good time in Q1, I think we could have made it to Q3. We just broke the gearbox so I’m afraid I’m going to start last tomorrow.”
Grosjean spoke about the difficulties of overtaking in the Yas Marina track.
“It’s one of those tracks where on the paper it’s easy to overtake and track it’s really hard,” he said, “The grip of the tyre is quite low and going out of the hairpin with a car in front of you is always difficult. I’ll do my best, I’ll enjoy it.”
Once the lights went out for the final time, Grosjean took no time to knock off some spots as he avoided a crash between Maldonado and Fernando Alonso in Turn 1 and passed four cars in the opening four laps to advance to fourteenth.
Joining the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel on an opening long run, Grosjean first pitted on Lap 24 as the first stint put him into points contention as track conditions changed.
Making a final stop for super-soft tyres with 11 laps to go, Grosjean attacked the cars ahead as he approached the much-desired points position.
With three laps to go, he made his way past Carlos Sainz, Jr. for tenth spot. One lap later, he clicked off another move on Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat to cross the line in ninth.
“It was a tough race,” he said.
“But we knew with the right strategy we could do something good and the last stint was key.”
The result was a third straight points finish to end his career with Lotus, completing 2015 with 51 points, good enough for eleventh in Drivers’ Championship and sixth for the Constructors’ standings over Toro Rosso.
“When I saw Sainz ahead of me and Max Verstappen behind me,” he recalled, “I wanted to pass them, we did and we’ve got sixth.
“It was the best way to leave the team, scoring some good points and having a good race. The team deserves it and I’m very proud of the gift I’m leaving as a present. It’s been an emotional journey for me and I’m so happy to be able to reward everyone at Enstone with points.”
One thing Grosjean will remember is the spirit which his Lotus team showcased over his 10-year stint with the team which began as a young academy driver when the team was known as Renault.
“I will miss the guys,” he said. “I loved them, loved working with them. It means a lot to me. It’s not something that you don’t live every day in your life and I was lucky to have that. Being a Formula 1 driver in a team with strong spirit.
“I owe a lot to this team and it really feels like a family to me.”
Images via XPB Images