“Happiness is your biggest enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubts in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.”
Those were the words of the Niki Lauda character in last year’s box-office hit Rush, which details the story of the Formula One driver’s intense rivalry with James Hunt.
Lauda was struggling to deal with a blossoming relationship while putting his life at risk every other weekend. It is a sentiment that every F1 driver must have felt at some stage of their career, yet Romain Grosjean, in particular, appears to be coping with his newly acquired responsibilities admirably.
The Swiss-born Frenchman married in June 2012 and wife Marion delivered their first child 13 months later. Since becoming a father, Grosjean, 27, has looked reborn, finishing on the podium at four of the final six races of last season and turning around his reputation for recklessness.
His team principal at Lotus, Gerard Lopez, this year called him “one of the top three” drivers in the sport, despite having never won a race.
“You always have to believe you are the best, so it’s nice to have your team boss say that,” Grosjean told The National this week. “I have learnt a lot, have gained a lot of experience through the years and will learn even more this year and improve further.
“When you get in the car, you can’t think about family and things. You must be focused. As a sportsman, you have to be selfish and think only about what you are doing. Certainly, when I go back home, I am very pleased and my priorities are very different.
“People used to say you lose a second a lap when you become a dad, I have maybe gained four or five 10ths, so it seems maybe I work the other way around.”
Grosjean was widely expected to carry last year’s level of performance into this season but with Lotus and other Renault-powered teams crippled by engine issues, things have not gone to plan.
At the season-opening race in Melbourne, he and teammate Pastor Maldonado failed to finish, while Lopez has already conceded the car is unlikely to be able to fight at the front until the fifth race of the season.
Grosjean visited the team factory in England after the Melbourne disappointment and, ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, was remaining bullish about his chances of getting a maiden win this season. He rejected suggestions that his best chance might have just passed him by.
“Winning races is reliant on the car and maybe for now we are little further away than we were, but it doesn’t mean I give up,” he said. “Of course I want to win races as soon as possible and that is why I am on the racetrack, but it will come when it comes. The more you try to get it, the less you will, so I am just trying to do the best I can every time I get in the car.”
Lotus are taking new front and rear wings and a new floor to the Sepang circuit, yet the team's most obvious recent changes have been in personnel rather than car components. Eric Boullier, the former team principal, departed in the off-season while Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, left for Ferrari to be replaced by Maldonado.
“Eric has been important big time to my career and getting into Formula One, so the change is clear,” he said. “But the team now feels stable and we know where we are headed. That is very important for all of us in order for us to move forward.”
The loss of Raikkonen is undoubtedly a blow for a marque with world championship aspirations, it may, however, bring out the best in Grosjean, who has shown he can thrive when given responsibility. Lopez has said in the past he sees Grosjean as the team’s lead driver.
“It’s the natural way of things because I have been in the team before Pastor arrived and the engineers and everyone already know me,” he said. “Pastor is very quick and it is good to have him on board, but you still have to deserve your place.”
Compared to Grosjean’s relationship with Raikkonen, he is clearly more comfortable alongside Maldonado, whose daughter is one month younger than Grosjean’s son.
By the end of last season, the relationship between Grosjean and the taciturn Raikkonen was clearly strained and the two have not spoken since before the Indian Grand Prix in late October.
“To be honest, we spoke twice in two years. Kimi is Kimi, he will raise his hands and then pass by,” Grosjean said. “It wasn’t so much of a problem because he was a quick teammate with a lot of experience, so I could get the data and that is all I needed.
“I don’t need a friend, just a teammate.”
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