Few drivers are offered a second Formula 1 opportunity, but this Franco-Swiss accepted his with aplomb. Romain Grosjean had been a serial champion as he climbed through the junior formulae but was a huge disappointment first time around. However, he rebuilt his single-seater career and returned to F1 in 2012 with renewed momentum. That second chance initially proved fully justified although his career stagnated with Haas, and his F1 career ended with a scary crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix in which he miraculously escaped major injury.
Childhood and early racing career
Born in Geneva and of dual nationality, Grosjean won the 2003 Swiss Formula Renault 1.6 title in his first season in cars. He switched to the 2-litre French series a year later and his SG Formula entry was victorious at Dijon-Prenois. He remained with the team for a dominant 2005 campaign – Grosjean winning 10 out of the 16 rounds to beat Laurent Groppi to the title. That season ended with Grosjean finishing ninth on his Formula 3 debut in the end-of-season Macau Grand Prix when driving a Signature-Plus Dallara F305-Opel.
Now a member of Renault’s driver development programme, Grosjean stayed with Signature for the 2006 F3 Euroseries with his Dallara now Mercedes-powered. It was a difficult campaign with third at Oschersleben the only podium finish. However, he dominated the British F3 meeting at Pau –winning both races from pole position – and Grosjean was fifth in both the Zandvoort Masters and at Macau.
His 2007 move to ASM F3 transformed Grosjean into a regular front runner for the reigning three-time champions. He won six times to clinch the F3 Euroseries crown at the final round with ASL-Mücke Motorsport’s Sébastien Buemi in his wake.
GP2 success and Formula 1 failure
GP2 was next on Grosjean’s horizon, remaining with the renamed ART Grand Prix for the inaugural Asian championship in 2008. His debut weekend in Dubai could not have gone better – Grosjean converting pole position into victories in both the feature and sprint races. Subsequent wins at Bahrain and Dubai eased Grosjean to another title with Buemi runner-up once again. Grosjean then won at Istanbul and Spa-Francorchamps as he finished fourth in that summer’s GP2 Series.
Signed by the Renault F1 team as its reserve driver for 2009, he was GP2’s immediate pacesetter with Barwa Addax. Fastest in qualifying and winner of the opening two feature races at Barcelona and Monaco, Grosjean had been overhauled by Nico Hülkenberg by the time he quit the series to make his F1 debut. Renault dropped Nelson Piquet Jr after the Hungarian GP with Grosjean promoted in his place. However, rather than be his golden moment, Grosjean appeared out-of-his-depth and failed to qualify or finish in the top 10 during seven hapless appearances.
Rebuilding his reputation
Released at the end of the season with his reputation in tatters, Grosjean spent the next two seasons re-establishing himself and earn another F1 chance. 2010 was a busy campaign with Grosjean racing in GT1, Auto GP and GP2. He began the year in the new GT1 World Championship when sharing Matech Competition’s Ford GT with Thomas Mutsch. They won at Abu Dhabi and Brno before Grosjean turned his attention to single-seaters once more. He only joined DAMS’ Auto GP line-up at round five but he won four of the eight subsequent races to snatch the title at the death. As well as that, Grosjean replaced Jérôme d’Ambrosio in the team’s GP2 squad from Hockenheim and he twice finished third.
Grosjean’s career rehabilitation was completed by a double championship-winning GP2 season in 2011. He remained with DAMS and qualified on pole for both Asian rounds before winning Imola’s feature race. Domination of summer series began with feature race pole position and victory in Turkey and was followed by four more wins (Valencia, Silverstone, Nürburgring and Hungaroring) as Grosjean eased to the title. The year was completed as Renault F1’s Friday test driver in Abu Dhabi and Brazil as the team considered its new driver line-up.
Formula 1 take two
Named as Kimi Räikkönen’s team-mate in the rebranded Lotus team for 2012, he showed an impressive turn of pace. He was third in Bahrain and further podium finishes in Canada (a career-best second) and Hungary (having qualifying on the front row for the first time) helped Grosjean to eighth overall. That was an impressive return but Grosjean was involved in too many accidents, especially during the early stages of races. He was even suspended from the Italian GP after he caused a multiple pile-up at the start in Belgium.
Lotus remained loyal despite those questioning whether he could race in close quarters. That faith was repaid with six podium finishes during 2013 as he emerged as Sebastian Vettel’s closest if distant challenger. Those results included beating Red Bull’s Mark Webber into second in the United States GP. Grosjean had largely tamed his previous error-strewn ways although he crashed into Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso in Monaco. Now touted as a potential race winner, Grosjean was seventh in the 2013 World Championship.
Unfortunately, Grosjean was unable to build on that promise in 2014. The Lotus E22 lacked development and was hampered by underpowered Renault engines. Back-to-back eighth place finishes in Spain and Monaco were the only point’s scores as the cash-strapped team struggled following the loss of team principal Eric Boullier and key technical staff before the season.
Lotus switched to Mercedes-Benz engines in 2015 but the financial woes remained – the season overshadowed by threat of administration and rumours of a Renault take-over. However, the team was more competitive thanks to 2015’s best F1 engine and Grosjean finished the Belgian GP in a morale-boosting third position. That was the highlight as he claimed 11th in the standings in what was his final season with “Team Enstone”.
Switch to Haas-Ferrari
In search of a route to a top F1 team, Grosjean switched to Ferrari-affiliated newcomers Haas in 2016. The combination could hardly have started better with points scored in three of the first four races of the season. However, he grew increasingly frustrated with braking issues and as the team struggled to develop its VF-16 chassis. He only scored twice more and slipped to 13th in the final standings.
He began 2017 by qualifying sixth in Australia and scored eighth-place finishes in Bahrain and Monaco. Austria provided Grosjean’s most competitive weekend of the season. He matched that sixth-place on the grid and then raced strongly to maintain that position at the finish. Seventh at Spa-Francorchamps, his season petered out as the team struggled for balance after the summer break.
Grosjean’s indifferent form continued at the start of 2018 and it was the Austrian GP before he scored a point, thanks to a fine fourth-place finish. He regularly appeared in Q3 and finished in the points on occasions as Haas grew ever-stronger during the second half of the season. However, he was out-scored by team-mate Kevin Magnussen as individual errors restricted tangible results.
Haas struggled during 2019 with a car that was among the fastest in the midfield over one lap, but that mysteriously lacked race pace. Furthermore, team-mates Grosjean and Magnussen collided too often, including eliminating each other in Britain. Grosjean finished a dispiriting campaign in 18th position with only the Williams drivers scoring less. Tensions within the team plummeted and it seemed certain that one or the other would be released. So it was a surprise when Haas retained both Grosjean and Magnussen for 2020.
Throughout 2020, Grosjean became more vocal over team radio about how dismal the team’s prospects were. Hamstrung by the hastily rebuilt Ferrari power unit after the Maranello team’s private FIA settlement ahead of the new season, Haas was predominantly a backmarker alongside Williams most weekends.
Grosjean did score the team’s best result of the season though with a ninth-place finish coming in the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. But his final season in F1 will be remembered for what happened at the Bahrain GP. Grosjean suffered a major accident after contact with Daniil Kvyat coming out of Turn Three. The Haas driver was pitched into a barrier at nearly 160mph, splitting the barrier and car in two. The Has burst into flames with the Frenchman still sitting inside. Miraculously, Grosjean was able to extricate himself from the flames in under 30 seconds, and had only suffered minor burns on his hands in terms of injury.
The crash spelled the end of the season and F1 career for Grosjean, as he missed the final two races while recovering. Haas had already opted for an all-new line-up for 2021, replacing Grosjean and team-mate Kevin Magnussen with Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.