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Mat Coch writes:
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean has been the revelation of the 2012 season. Not only matching but often beating his 2007 world champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen. The Swiss driver is a different man to that which debuted for Renault in 2009; more relaxed and confident than his junior self, it seems a matter of when rather than if he becomes a race winner.
A win would appear the only piece missing from completing Grosjean as a Grand Prix driver. Yet while his Lotus has been fast and consistent, to date the team has been unable to string together a complete race weekend. Part of that is a result of starting with incomplete data, a hangover from the team's decision to replace both drivers at the end of 2011. What data the team does have must be adapted to suit, which doesn't always go to plan.
"There's teams like Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, who've been working with their drivers for three, four, five years," says Grosjean says. "They have data from the previous years. When they go on the race track they know where they want to start.
"Sometimes when we start a race weekend we get data from the previous year, but it's not you who was in the car so it takes a bit of time to adapt," he continues. "This little bit of time you need sometimes means at the end you are not perfect."
Grosjean is his own harshest critic, a perfectionist who rues any opportunity squandered, though he doesn't allow himself to dwell on the fact.
"Sometimes it costs me more than it gives me," he admits with a laugh. "It's like a quali lap. If you want to get the best of everything sometimes you miss a little bit but if you back off and don't try to get to the 100% everywhere sometimes you get a better lap." It's a mature attitude, typical of the likable 26-year-old.
"We could have done better on a few occasions but we could have been doing much worse," he says. "There's up and downs, but that's racing. We can be pretty pleased with what we have achieved so far."
The smile which appeared in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix looks to have rarely left ever since. He laughs often, giggling as he speaks as though in on a joke the rest of the world isn't. His approach is not dissimilar to that of Jenson Button, who seems to amuse himself as well as his audience when speaking to the press.
Clearly the mental coach he employed during his formative years got it right, though the 'Frenchman' doesn't feel the need for such services now. "I used to work with a mental coach but I don't think that I need one today," he explains. "You always try to get the best, but then you arrive to a level where you think you don't need them anymore." Grosjean is happy and relaxed he insists, not overly stressed and therefore not in need of someone to coach him out of bed each morning.
Plus, there is one inescapable coach in Formula One. "The data," he howls. "The tennis player they have the coach to tell them 'okay do more of that, give more lift, give more slice, go a little bit closer to the ball,' stuff like that. We have the computer."
Despite a strong first half of the year Grosjean's future is less than certain. He is without a contract for 2013, yet while it seems a formality he assumes nothing. "Hopefully I'll stay in Formula One," switching to an almost unrecognisably serious demeanour. "I lost it once. It was tough, so let's see where we'll be."
It would seem such matters will be a formality. Managed by Lotus boss Eric Boullier the first half of 2012 has erased any memory of 2009. He is now a front runner and a name among those rattled off as possible contenders more often than not. "If we keep doing what we have been doing so far I think there is a good chance to keep going," he smiles.
And that elusive first win? "Let's hope it's going to happen soon!"
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