Charles Leclerc grabbed the attention of the world when he took his maiden F1 victory at the Belgian GP in a fitting tribute to friend and Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert whose death on Saturday at Spa rocked the world of motorsport.
In the midst of all the celebrations and tributes on Sunday, the (sad) story of another disappointing race day for Romain Grosjean unfolded. It has been a disastrous 2019 season for the Frenchman…and it could be worse: he could lose his drive at the end of the season.
The initial promise: Grosjean left Lotus at the end of a strong 2015 season and signed with the newly formed Haas F1 Team for 2016, where he was joined by former Sauber driver Esteban Gutiérrez. Gutierrez, a driver who had scored no point in his previous F1 season was no match for Romain who picked up all of the team’s 29 points as the team finished 8th in its rookie season, beating experienced teams like Renault & Sauber. The Mexican left at the end of the season, and Kevin Magnussen left Renault to take his seat. A formidable teammate…and rival.
The Struggle that followed: The 2017 season was a reality check for the American team as they struggled to replicate their 2017 heroics, finishing 8th in the Constructors’ standings. Romain won the teammate battle, the 33-year old finishing 9 points more than the Dane who had more DNFs. Haas retained Romain for 2018. All was well, until…
The year 2018 and bad luck: Five DNFs and one disqualification in Monza meant that he finished 14th on the drivers’ log with 37 points, his teammate amassing 56 points. The only notable highpoint for the Frenchman was his best finish for Haas (4th place) in Austria. A good year for Haas (5th in Constructors’ log), a bad year for Grosjean whose frequent complaining over his team’s radio has earned him a reputation as Formula 1’s no.1 complainer. Haas retained Romain for 2019. A driver with over 7 years of experience and 10 podium finishes was needed for a team still learning the ropes of F1.
And the continuing (bad) run of this season has not given him a break: it got worse with six DNFs in 13 races, having a mere 8 points with his teammate 10 points ahead. His on-track clashes with Magussen hasn’t helped his case either. The pair collided at both the British and German Grand Prix, crashing out at the first but surviving to score points at the second. The pair have clashed three times this season in all, risking team orders being placed on them. Grosjean said he was more worried about losing his seat last year, also admitting his fault in an error-strewn season: “I made many mistakes that I shouldn’t have done with my experience, but I think since then I recovered pretty well,” he said in Budapest.
What he has to do: K-Mag’s contract runs till end of 2020. With Esteban Ocon returning to the grid next year and Nico Hulkenberg tipped to replace him at Haas, Grosjean could be left without a seat. He should be more worried. With 8 races to go, Grosjean has to get his act together and start churning out results that are good enough to help him retain his seat for 2020. If he loses his seat, there may be two or three less-attractive opportunities in F1 at the end of this season. A move to another series (Formula E and co.) can’t be ruled out also.
The Italian GP is up next, another chance for Grosjean to gain or lose ground in his race to keep his Haas drive.
By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto