x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Steep curve for Grosjean

The rookie Renault driver is having to deal with less than ideal conditions on and off the track.

Renault could desperately do with some good news at the Singapore Grand Prix. The last week has been a public-relations disaster, with the team's integral members - the principal, Flavio Briatore, and the engineering chief, Pat Symonds, - having resigned from their posts for their part in the race-fixing scandal.

The pair were handed bans for ordering Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash into a wall to gift Fernando Alonso the race win, while Renault were hit with a suspended two-year ban from the sport. Romain Grosjean, who took over from the axed Piquet at the European Grand Prix in Valencia last month, has watched the team unravel this week from his home in Switzerland. It is fair to say his has not been the easiest of transitions into Formula One.

Grosjean has a close relationship with Briatore, who until his F1 ban acted as the driver's manager and signed him up to the Renault team and their driver development programme in 2006. The 23-year-old driver refused to be drawn on "Crashgate" but paid tribute to his outgoing boss. He said: "Flavio is a big character in the paddock and has been a good boss to me. He gave me the chance to drive in Formula One so I will always be grateful to him."

Under Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) rules, Grosjean knows he will need to sever ties with his manager to earn a new super licence to drive in F1 next season. It is unclear if that will be at Renault next season because has not set the track alight with his performances. He boasts two 15th places and one retirement following his altercation with world championship leader Jenson Button on lap one at Les Combes of the Belgian GP.

But in his defence, his opportunities in the car before race weekends have been limited. The Swiss-born French driver said: "I never thought F1 would be easy, especially as I made my debut in the middle of the season without the chance to do any testing. I had only driven the R29 a couple of times in straight-line aero testing so I had a lot to learn in Valencia for my first race. "I've tried my best in the first few races and the team has been very supportive and not put any pressure on me as they know I have a lot to learn."

Despite the steep learning curve, Grosjean has been earmarked as a star of the future in F1 despite taking up motorsport at the relatively late age of 14, on his father's insistence who ironically wanted him to pursue a less dangerous past time. "I used to do a lot of skiing," explained Grosjean, "but then my dad brought me a go kart. He thought it would be safer than skiing somehow! And that was it - I was hooked."

His late arrival in motorsport is not the only thing that makes him an exception in the current crop of F1 drivers. As well as driving for Renault, Grosjean has a day job in a Swiss bank in Geneva where he works as a portfolio assistant. He readily admits that job has been on the back burner of late. "I only work at the bank part time and, with all the racing this season, I've not been there very much," he said. "I buy and sell shares, change money and check there are no debts on the accounts.

"My focus is on racing and that's my No 1 priority but I'm interested in business and it's always good to have something to fall back on." The current belief is that Grosjean will probably get a contract extension for 2010 to drive alongside an, as yet, unnamed teammate. Fernando Alonso looks certain to move to Ferrari and BMW Sauber racer Robert Kubica is the current favourite to replace him. Grosjean enjoys a close relationship with Alonso: the pair live nearby in Switzerland and catch up whenever they have the opportunity away from race weekends.

And Grosjean was quick to praise the Spaniard for his role in easing him into the team. He said: "He is a great champion - maybe the best driver in Formula One and it's a great opportunity for me to work with him for the rest of the season. We get on well and we meet up when we're both free and he says I can ask him anything if I have any questions or need advice." On the track, Grosjean's goals are ambitious; he aims to score points at all four remaining races this season but admitted he has his work cut out. "I don't have a winning car so I have to set realistic goals and that's scoring points. What that means for next season, I don't know.."

Grosjean confesses the faults he needs to change to climb up the F1 standings. "My pessimism is just part of my personality and it's something I want to change but I don't think that's something that impacts on my racing," he added. "Well, let's hope not." mmajendie@thenational.ae