Romain Grosjean secured Lotus’ first Formula One podium since the 2013 US Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps today.
The Frenchman’s effort went some way to curing what has been a difficult week for the Enstone squad, during which their financial issues once again made the headlines.
The result was also tempered by some luck, when Grosjean gained 3rd from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel two laps from the end, when the right rear tyre of Vettel’s SF15-T machine blew apart in spectacular fashion.
“Today’s result is wonderful. It’s good for the team and for myself of course,” said a clearly delighted Grosjean. Continuing he added, “Yesterday’s good qualifying result put a smile on my face but today was an unbelievable race. Everything came together when it mattered during those 43 laps. I drove with my heart today and pushed 100 % throughout the race.”
Starting 9th, Grosjean jumped the slow starting Felipe Massa (Williams) on the opening lap, before a retirement for Grosjean’s Lotus teammate Pastor Maldonado offered up another position. The former GP2 champion followed Williams’ Valtteri Bottas until the stops; however an additional lap in clear air for the Lotus man was enough to take him past the Finn for 6th.
The charge continued with a move of Daniel Ricciardo on lap 18, although the Red Bull driver’s eventual retirement three laps later rendered his effort mute. It was a charge that brought Ricciardo back down to Earth following his Hungarian podium of four weeks ago. “I lost power going into the chicane, everything switched off, including the dash. It looks like it’s electrical but we’ll see what the investigation brings,” noted Ricciardo. “It’s disappointing not to finish, we are not sure what the issue is but the team are investigating.”
Indeed it was Ricciardo’s retirement that unraveled the next stage of the race. The Australian’s Red Bull machine suffered a complete power shut down at the final corner on lap 20, necessitating a Virtual Safety Car as marshals attempted to move the Renault-powered machine. It would key for Grosjean, who stopped on lap 21 – along with Massa, Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) and Max Verstappen as strategies unfolded under slower conditions.
Ferrari having pitted Vettel on lap 14 altered their strategy to keep Vettel on track for the duration, while Grosjean rejoined just over 5s adrift of the German – attempting to make the medium compound Pirelli’s last 29 laps would prove a bold strategy for Vettel and Ferrari and one that would eventually bear no fruit.
Chasing the Ferrari hard, Grosjean closed in to less than a second from the rear of Vettel, but was struggling to make a move stick the DRS zone, when Vettel’s right rear Pirelli blew apart. “We deserved to finish on the podium but that’s racing,” an angry four-time champion said post-race. “I think this is not easy to accept for a driver, even if it’s not as bad as in Silverstone few years ago, but still we need to talk to each other as it can’t happen without prior notice. There’s no explanation for what happened: it’s not a puncture, the tyre just exploded.” It was an explosion that left Vettel furious post-race and demanding answers from Pirelli. The Ferrari man would eventually classify his car in 12th.
While feeling for Vettel, Grosjean was – naturally – in a delighted mood. “We were really trying to go for the podium this afternoon and I felt very emotional during the last lap of the race! It’s a great feeling today.” With a breath, the Lotus man added, “I did some great overtaking manoeuvres and was really pushing to catch up and hopefully overtake Sebastian Vettel – of course it was bad luck for him to have had the tyre issue at the end.”
It was not all good news for Lotus however. Having crashed during the opening free practice session on Friday, Maldonado’s machine slowed significantly after he clouted the curbs in Radillon, forcing the Venezuelan to retire in the pits at the end of lap two. “We had been doing a great job this weekend, especially yesterday. The car was feeling very good, very competitive and I had a good race start,” said the 30-year-old.
“We had an issue with the drive of the car which the team are investigating. I’m disappointed about the issue we had today but that’s racing sometimes. We are keeping focused for the next race now and Romain has shown what is possible. I love Italy and Monza so I’ll be doing everything I can for a strong result there,” added Maldonado, whose torrid season continues to go from bad to worse.
Despite this good result, there is still a cloud hanging over the Lotus team, but with Renault apparently still in talks to buy the team back for the 2017 season, the uncertainty will only continue.