Suzuka, October 2012. Mark Webber isn’t one to mince his words at any time, but particularly not when he’s steamed. And 90 minutes after Romain Grosjean clattered into him at the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix, Webber is ready to pay the Frenchman a visit for a decidedly one-way conversation.
“Maybe he needs another holiday,” Webber fumed, his comments coming just three Grands Prix after Grosjean was banned for a race after causing an enormous first-corner crash at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
“He needs to have a look at himself. It’s quite embarrassing at this level for him. How many mistakes can you make, how many times can you make the same error?”
Fast-forward seven months, and the other Aussie in the F1 field, Daniel Ricciardo, finds himself down the escape road adjacent to the Nouvelle Chicane in last Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix. Without a rear wing. And with a reasonable idea as to who sent it flying. “You can probably guess the driver,” Ricciardo comments over the team radio as Grosjean, car bent, chance of points lost once again, trundles back to the pits after his third huge shunt in three days on the sport’s most unforgiving circuit.
What gives? Grosjean came into this year effectively on probation after his 2012 season ended up with him second-guessing his instincts and driving to stay out of everyone’s way, a by-product of the series of incidents that culminated in the La Source smash that changed the face of last year’s world championship. Tiptoeing the fine line between aggression and discretion was always going to be his biggest test this season. Is it a test he’s up to passing?
On the other side of the Lotus garage, Kimi Raikkonen says little, gives nothing away and keeps banking the big points to sit second in the championship to Sebastian Vettel. Grosjean after five races? He’s ninth, has 60 points less than his teammate and is barely ahead of Jenson Button in the standings, who has had a miserable time in a McLaren that’s slower by some distance than the car Grosjean finds himself in.
Lotus have Davide Valsecchi as their test driver, waiting in the wings. Similar age to Grosjean, similar pedigree as GP2 champion. Does he possess Grosjean’s natural speed? Unlikely. Is he a better chance to (a) bring the car home consistently where it should be and (b) bring it home with all four corners still attached on a regular basis? You would suggest yes. With F1 set to head to Montreal next weekend, Grosjean could do worse than replicate his superb second place in Canada last year, a result that showed his undeniable pace. A podium appears to be a pipedream, especially given he has a 10-place grid penalty for the incident with Ricciardo. A solid run through the field in a fast car that’s kind to its tyres is the bare minimum expected. A first-lap smash, especially in the tricky left-right sequence to start the lap in Montreal, could have far-reaching consequences.
Patience is in short supply at Enstone, and any holiday Romain gets from here is likely to be permanent. Second chances are rare in F1, and they’re taken away very quickly if the driver in question can’t consistently demonstrate the ability to learn from his mistakes.