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Romain Rules: Franco-Swiss driver leading the USA’s only F1 team up the grid

EXCLUSIVE: As rain fell on what little of Lotus’s equipment had made it to the paddock, the team confirmed it had been locked out of its mobile office for not paying its bills to Japan’s race organisers.


Michael Lamonato

Monday 22 August 2016, 01:00PM


Haas F1 team driver Romain Grosjean poses on HAAS' VF-16 car during the official presentation at the Circuit de Catalunya on the first test day of the Formula One Grand Prix season.  Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP
Haas F1 team driver Romain Grosjean poses on HAAS' VF-16 car during the official presentation at the Circuit de Catalunya on the first test day of the Formula One Grand Prix season. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP

The 2015 season had turned grim for the Enstone squad, but one man was unaffected by the gloom: lead driver Romain Grosjean’s smile bore no signs of strain as he endured his Friday media meet-up.

Grosjean knew his rescue was at hand. Just four days later he was announced as new team Haas’s first F1 driver.

The salvation may have been bittersweet – at 29 years old Grosjean knew he was in the prime of his career – but Lotus’s dire situation made Haas an attractive gamble.

“Change is always a risk, but I think you have to measure the risk,” Grosjean told The Phuket News. “I think it was a discussion with Gunther [Steiner, team principal] and Gene [Haas, owner] on their mentality and their approach.

“You don’t get to see everything, because you’re still a competitor, but Gunther gave me enough to make me believe that it could be great.”

Less than six months later Grosjean was sat in the team’s first F1 car at its first race. From a lowly eighteenth in qualifying he finished a sensational sixth. The gamble was paying off.

Though the dream start wasn’t to last – points were scored just thrice more in the following 11 rounds – the pair’s consistent competitiveness in year one earnt Haas and Grosjean new credibility.

“It’s just a small team with a great atmosphere. The way they manage the team, the way the mentality is – it works.”

Though nine races still remain this season, F1’s financially frugal midfield has forced Haas to switch focus from its promising 2016 beginnings to its 2017 challenger in an attempt to win an early crucial edge.

It’s part of the long-term plan to becoming a race winner, central to which is having Romain in the car.

“They didn’t want a pay driver,” Grosjean said. “I’m sure they had thousands of phone calls with drivers with whatever millions, but they wanted an experienced driver.”

For a fledgling team like Haas, this leadership from the cockpit is just as important as leadership from the pit wall.

“I will always like to be the leader, I will always like to be 100 per cent in everything, but in the end being a leader is not to control everything.

“Driving the car is one part, but trying to get it the way you want around the track is another one. It is as much a challenge as driving.

“If you give the team trust, they give it back to you.”

Romain wasn’t always Grosjean The Leader.

A string of ugly crashes in 2012 had Mark Webber brand him a “first-lap nutcase” and the stewards ban him for one race.

After sitting out two seasons after his lacklustre 2009 debut his career again hung by a thread.

His faith in his skills unshakeable, Grosjean put mind over matter visited a psychologist – rarely used, much less spoken about, in F1 – in an attempt to save him from himself.

“I think sport in general is a man’s world, where it’s not good to say you see a psychologist.

“I don’t really care about speaking about it. I want to be better than the others, that’s why I use psychology.

“That’s why you use a trainer, that’s why you use the best engineers as possible – it’s trying to get all the best things around.

“I could’ve stopped [going] a long time ago, but actually I kept working with her – I’ve got more tools.”

Those tools are being put to use building Haas.

Grosjean has scored all Haas’s 28 points, putting it above car manufacturer Renault, 2010 debutant Manor, and F1 stalwart Sauber in the constructors standings.

Though the honeymoon has been sweet, Haas knows making it in Formula One has forever been removed from simply turning up.

Taking the next step will challenge F1’s Anglo-American team, but in Grosjean’s self-made attitude the team has its star to lead it bravely into the future.

 

 

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