“Grosjean: ‘Getting Back in the Car Was Just Normal’”


This is an excerpt from an extensive coming feature in the next volume of World in Motorsport.

In the third of three interviews with Leigh O’Gorman, the former Formula One racer and now IndyCar driver Romain Grosjean discusses life, psychology and the tools to survive at the peak of motorsport.


Around this time two years ago, Haas Formula One driver Romain Grosjean was preparing for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Within moments of the race start, he had crashed and crashed hard. But just as it seemed as if it was all about to end, America called.

“It’s a busy, busy universe. Okay, good times.”

Romain Grosjean has certainly been busy. For he and teammate Kevin Magnussen, 2020 had been a very difficult season and Grosjean was examining options for the following year.

Having spoken with him just a few weeks earlier, he did not seem to be in the best of mindsets. From when I first interviewed him in 2011 – a time when the Swiss-born Frenchman was buzzing with enthusiasm and energy – to 2020, some elements of the man had remained constant, but there was little doubt, the mood had darkened.

Slips of humour were still ever present, but the wit had become sharper, pricklier and cut more finely, particularly as his F1 career appeared to be spinning beyond his control.

Within moments of that race in Bahrain starting, the Grand Prix was marked with a fiery crash that nearly claimed Grosjean’s life. As the field wove through the opening turns and underbodies scrubbed the road, showering followers with clipped sparks, Grosjean linked wheels with AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, pitching the Haas machine hard into the barrier.

The near-instantaneous destruction of the VF-20 chassis and the ensuing explosion shocked the racing world, but amidst the deep orange. red and black haze, Grosjean emerged, singed – albeit with second-degree burns across his hands – but relatively unscathed given the ordeal.

“F1: The More You Do, The More You Understand, The More You See – Grosjean”

Now racing with Andretti Autosport in America’s Indycar Series, one would be forgiven for thinking that Grosjean would not consider getting back in the car, but the now former-F1 racer has found a happy place.
“Honestly, getting back in the car was just normal,” he says. Indeed, despite suffering second-degree burns to his hands in the fire, Grosjean was back in a car within three months – with hands heavily bandaged to protect blisters from bursting – as he tested Indycar for the first time at Barber Motorsport Park. “I just wanted to wait the first lap of the first race back in the car and if that lap felt normal, I would carry on; if that lap felt not normal, I would stop racing.”

Grosjean’s career has had a somewhat haphazard path until now. Initial success at Formula 3 and GP2 level brought him to the attention of the Renault Formula 1 team {note 1}, who enrolled the junior racer as a test driver in 2008. This became a race driver in the 2nd half of 2009, when Nelson Piquet Jr was fired; however, with the team reeling from the Crashgate scandal and Grosjean ill-prepared for the rigours of F1 {note 2}, the Frenchman too was dropped after not scoring in seven races.

In the wilderness at the tender age of 23, Grosjean went back to the drawing board and picked up drives wherever he could, including stints in the GT1 World Championship – which included an unsuccessful run at Le Mans – and Auto GP, before returning to GP2 to win both the Main and Asian Series’ in 2011 {note 3}.
Learning quickly has become a standard for Grosjean, a talent he required for when he crossed the Atlantic. “The new series was a challenge because you get to discover new cars, new tracks, new atmosphere, new people, new rules, new everything. That was like being a rookie again and discovering everything, so you have to learn every time we go on track.”

“Conor Daly: The best part about Indycar right now is that we put on a great show.”

After an initial season with Dale Coyne Racing, Grosjean was initially booked to race at just the road and street circuits, but two-thirds of the season made his oval debut at Gateway Motorsports Park. This year saw the Frenchman run the full schedule, including the Indianapolis 500. “There is definitely a different approach, a different mindset, a different way of driving as well, so it’s a completely different skill that you need to build and I guess that’s why you see guys that have been doing it for a long time that are very, very good at it. [Helio] Castroneves is a good example.”

Grosjean admits that prior to his Indycar move, his lack of experience caused him to view oval racing in a somewhat derogatory light but acknowledges his eyes have been opened now that he has had the opportunity to race and test at several oval venues. “There’s so much information to gather. There’s a risk involvement as well. You know, the cars are getting safer and safer, the walls are getting better and better, but still, when you do 230 miles an hour next to a wall, if things go wrong, they go wrong badly.
“It’s surprising, because I looked at it from Europe back in the days and thought it was all kind of boring and easy, and then you start doing it and you realise that it’s definitely not easy and every oval is different.”

Although this year’s Indycar calendar comprised only five races over four oval rounds (Iowa was a double-header) {note 4}, Grosjean was impressed by the variety to hand. “They all require skills and adaptation and I think that’s something we definitely see wrong in Europe, thinking that they all kind of the same thing and just turning left, it’s a little bit more complex than that.”

Grosjean finished higher in points this year than he did in 2021, although this is partially attributed to his competing throughout a season, which proved, at times, difficult, particularly as relations with teammate Alexander Rossi fractured.
Arguably, there was greater consistency across the breadth of the season for the former-F1 ace, but the Andretti-Autosport team struggled compared to previous campaigns but sees a team still hungry for success, but given how the competition is in Indycar, that is a tough call. “I like the fact that to make a pass, you have to build it up and go for it and that’s just the racing that I enjoy. It’s not like you can go back in the back of the field and fly through like the Mercedes would do in Formula One [in] the first few years of the hybrid era. It’s definitely different and I like that.”

For now, Grosjean and his family are enjoying life beyond the gates of the west. Having settled in Florida, the Frenchman comes across as far more settled and content than he was in his latter Formula One days, while simultaneously hungry for future success. “You could go on the beach every day and enjoy the sun and do nothing and drink a pina colada, or you can push the limit and always try something new. I go to the beach when I want to have some time off, but I’m also someone that always tried to be active and push things forward.”

Indeed, when asked if there was anything he would change, Grosjean makes a nod toward the off-season, noting, “It is too long,” he ends with a laugh.

{note 1}
Now competing as Alpine F1 Team.

{note 2}
In a 2020 interview, Grosjean told The Motorsport Archive that, “I wish I would know in 2009 everything I know now. I wasn’t ready to come to Formula One in 2009 and I was missing key people around me, which is really very important for young drivers to step in and have people that can help them.”
When asked whether competing in junior formulae does enough to prepare drivers for Formula One, Grosjean is quick press home difficulties. “No, no, no… you’re not ready. Even though you think you have won Formula 2… I don’t think you know what’s coming.”

{note 3}
Having previously raced with Renault (2009) and then Lotus (2012-15) – albeit with a gap in the wilderness between the teams – the move to Haas in 2016 was a risk, but given Lotus’s crumbling finances and weakening position, it was probably the right one.
Grosjean scored several podiums with Lotus and reached 7th in the standings in three years earlier and his stock had risen, despite his quick, but somewhat erratic 2012 season; however, Lotus’s downturn affected Grosjean’s reputation too and when the opportunity came with Haas, the risk probably seemed like a better option than stagnation.
In Formula One, nothing survives stagnation. It sucks the oxygen out of a team and grinds them to a halt. Then still aged 29, Grosjean had plenty still to give. Yet after a couple of solid first three seasons with the American squad topped with a best of 4th at the Red Bull Ring in 2018, Haas began to drop off fast as money tightened and come the of 2020, they had only scored twice – a 9th for Grosjean at the Nürburgring and a 10th for teammate Kevin Magnussen in Hungary. Even had it not been for the Bahrain crash, there were strong rumours that Grosjean was to be dropped following the end of that season.

{note 4}
The four ovals on Indycar’s 2022 season were as follows:
Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile quad-oval, with progressive banking of 20-24 degrees;
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 2.5-mile superspeedway circuit, with 9 degrees of banking;
Iowa Speedway, a 0.875-mile D-shaped oval with 12-14 degrees of banking and 10 degrees of banking on the start/finish stretch;
Gateway Motorsports Part, a 1.25-mile hairpin shaped oval, with progressive banking of between 9-11 degrees.

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