I don’t know where Romain Grosjean is at this minute, but the one place he probably doesn’t want to be in a couple of weeks is Monaco. Of all the race tracks to come next when you’re having a 'mare of a season and confidence is low, Monte Carlo has to be bottom of the list.
Two races, and two successive schoolboy errors. What’s going on?
One of the things to be admired about Grosjean had been an ability to put the potentially devastating rubbishing of 2012 behind him and respond with fast and consistent performances. Having matured impressively, he’s somehow reverted to the impetuous driver branded a ‘first lap nutcase’ by Mark Webber following the Grosjean’s seventh such incident six years ago.
Grosjean has gone five races without scoring a point. He can hardly blame the car when Kevin Magnussen (sometime dubious wheel-to-wheel manners aside) is on his best form ever and increasingly at one with the Haas VF-18. Having been out-qualified for the fourth time in five races, it can’t have helped Grosjean’s demeanour on Sunday to watch his team-mate finish sixth in what Magnussen then declared to be the fourth-best car on the day.
The Dane’s efforts alone have lifted Haas into sixth in the constructors’ championship, a position that could have been even higher but for the pit stop disaster in Melbourne – and Grosjean’s conversation with the wall in Baku.
Preparing for a restart is a tricky business, as both Red Bull drivers proved on Sunday. The TV world feed somehow managed to miss Daniel Ricciardo’s lengthy exploration of the run off areas following a spin, but we certainly had a full sharp-intake-of-breath view of Max Verstappen clipping his front wing against the back of Lance Stroll’s Williams.
What appeared to be the prelude to a pit stop for a new nose actually turned out to be nothing more than a continuation of his previous quick lap times. Which begged the obvious question: how was such a thing possible with part of the front wing end plate missing? You know, a sizeable chunk of the intricate carbon fibre sculpture that aerodynamicists up and down the pit lane literally spend millions on while pursuing 0.001s over 3.5kms?
It’s happened before, of course. Drivers push their engineer’s patience to the limit during practice by declaring the car to be absolute rubbish without miniscule changes to the set-up – and then go and drive the wheels off the thing despite half the floor and aero appendages having been scattered across the scenery at the first corner.
In Verstappen’s case, he tweaked the diff and, in his words: “…felt a bit more understeer in Turn 3 and 9, and maybe braking a bit deeper in hairpins, but it was not too bad, to be honest. I don’t think it affected me too much.”
No apologies for returning to a theme you will be familiar with in this column, but Max gave us another excuse to point at the stupid front wings and simply ask: “Why?”
That said, they cause all sorts of unnecessary drama through momentary loss of downforce and may have contributed to Grosjean suddenly losing the back end when he lifted off to avoid contact as his team-mate had a wobble. But that was absolutely no excuse for then burying his right foot when more or less out of harm’s way on the left-hand run-off.
At least any such vicious side-step at Monaco will be brought to a merciful conclusion by the ever-present barrier or wall. It’s a thought unlikely to be far from Grosjean’s mind in the coming days and the last thing he needs preparing for a track where confidence is everything.
If poor Romain thought life was difficult in 2012, it’s ten times worse right now in the light of suggestions he’s lucky to be racing at all.