Throughout his career, Romain Grosjean has proved an enigmatic racer, whose profile has been dominated incidents intertwined with undoubted speed.
Recently World in Motorsport spoke to the Haas driver about the moments that have defined his career and how mind management has allowed him to keep his feet on the ground.
It has not been the easiest of season’s for Romain Grosjean. At the time of talking – just prior to the Russian Grand Prix – the Haas racer had yet to score a point – a statistic finally rectified at this weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix.
And yet, Grosjean is phlegmatic about his situation. Initially he appears at ease with himself and yet, one can identify a level of frustration simmers below the surface.
It is a frustration that has on occasion boiled over on team radio during race weekends, but over the course of the past eight years, Grosjean has worked hard to counter these frustrations, with the help of sport psychologists.
However, unlike many in motor racing’s top tier, the Frenchman is open to discussing the topic of sports psychology, seeing it not as a weakness, but as a method of self-improvement – from both a personal and sporting aspect. “So many examples out there and you see it from outside where some need help and there are some who are having help, but they don’t talk about it. It’s still a bit of a taboo, but for some people, they don’t want to talk about it, but if I have a fitness coach to get stronger, why wouldn’t I have a psychologist to get my head better? To me, it’s a simple as that.
“I think it helps you to become a better person. In life, we go through challenges and having kids is one of the most incredible experiences on Earth, but also one of the most challenging. Seeing a psychologist when I had my first, my second and my third kids always helped me as a man and also, in a way, as a sportsman.”
Given the full-on nature of Formula One, Grosjean admits that sometimes it can be difficult to separate his personal and professional lives and says that working with a psychologist has given him the focus and ability to find balance. “If things are going wrong at home when you come to a racetrack, it is very difficult to completely separate that. You need to make sure that one of the two lives, if you want, goes well.
“It’s not easy, but as I say, the more you do, the more you understand, the more you see the situation, the more you can position yourself, the more easy it is to reflect on a session. When you say, ‘Look guys, I haven’t done a good job – don’t worry about the car, it’s going to be fine, it’s just me, I didn’t drive well, because of this and that.’”.
In the background, rumours regarding Grosjean’s future with the American team continue to swirl; rumours which have only accelerated as the discontent between the two parties has turned public. “For the third race in a row, [Grosjean was asked in a press conference] ‘What’s your future like?’ There aren’t many places left in Formula One and Haas wants to take their time… It’s always repetitive pressure and if you do Formula One, that’s your life.
“It puts you into a frustrating place and then you know you’re frustrated, so you just act a little bit differently and I understand what’s causes your brain to work and how to be in the right place.”
As with all sport the world over, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with Formula One’s schedules and has also necessitated racing in front of bare or even empty grandstands. Stating that without the fans, the atmosphere at races has been very different, the 34-year-old acknowledges that “something is missing,” particularly given the normally charged events that Grand Prix are.
Despite this, Grosjean is finding some calm amidst the surrounding storms, aided by an emptier Grand Prix paddock. “It’s different. There’s less media, less marketing to be done, less sponsors, so there’s more [time],” Grosjean says. “You get to the track, you do the engineers meeting, you do the driving, you debrief, you get some time to yourself to think about what you can do in the next sessions, rather than being thrown around, going to the Paddock Club with those guys, go to an autograph session, go see the media, come say ‘Hi’ to the guests and next thing you know, you’re off, you need to go driving now.
“In that aspect for drivers, I think it’s been quite positive that we actually have a little bit more time for ourselves.”
Having made his Formula One debut in 2009, when he replaced the fired Nelson Piquet Jr at Renault, Grosjean quickly found himself back on the sidelines, with his stint lasting only seven races. Come season end, the Frenchman was cast adrift, but understands now he was missing the maturity and help necessary to fully grasp what was developing around him. “I wish I would know in 2009 everything I know now,” he recalls. “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.”
Thereafter, Grosjean competed in the FIA GT1 World Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours with Matech competition, while simultaneously winning the Auto GP Series – despite only taking part in two-thirds of the races. In 2011, he won both the GP2 Series and GP2 Asia Series, before returning to Formula One a year later with Lotus.
Despite it being a controversial year for Grosjean, filled with accidents and incidents – one of which earned him a race ban for the that year’s Italian Grand Prix, Grosjean still looks upon the season with some positivity. “Since 2012 – everyone talks about those incidents, but [apart from that], it was a pretty good season. There aren’t many rookies that have come and scored podiums, p2 finishes, led Grands Prix, had a fastest lap in their first year.”
With it looking likely that both he and Magnussen may be replaced at Haas for 2021 – possibly with younger talent from the junior formulae – Grosjean has a message for those looking to jump into Formula One before they are truly ready. “I wish I had matured earlier. Even though you think you have won Formula 2… no, no, no, no, no, no… you’re not ready,” he ponders.
“It’s a big switch that you need to be ready to accept and probably I wasn’t so… let’s forget the first experience in Formula One,” states Grosjean firmly.
“I don’t think you know what’s coming.”
For the full version of this discussion with Romain Grosjean, as well as conversations with Rubens Barrichello, Conor Daly and WRC’s Richard Millener, Yves Matton, Andrea Adamo and Colin Clark, check back for the next issue of World in Motorsport – coming soon.