Even with a 2013 contract in his pocket, Romain Grosjean
has admitted he remained perilously close to seeing his now flourishing F1 career end. Banned for a race in 2012 and written off as the 'first lap nutcase' by Mark Webber
, the Frenchman entered the winter period uncertain if he would be returning in 2013.
Ultimately, having developed a close working relationship with a psychologist and no longer running into regular trouble in wheel-to-wheel combat, Grosjean ended the recently-concluded season as a standout of 2013. In Kimi Raikkonen
's absence, he will lead the Lotus
team in 2014, alongside new teammate Pastor Maldonado
But early in 2013, Grosjean was not so sure about his future. "I remember calling (team owner) Gerard (Lopez) and saying that the contract is signed. But he said that if in the first four races I had four accidents on the first laps, then it's all over. I replied that I thought that was normal. I think that in this case, I would not have come to the fifth race," Grosjean said in an interview with the French magazine Auto Hebdo.
He now has his personal problems under control, is happily married and a new father, but Lotus - although competitive - ended the season in disarray. Amid rumours the Quantum deal is collapsing and that employees and suppliers are going unpaid, Grosjean admits it was a difficult period.
"Actually," he explained, "for the drivers, the engineers and the mechanics, those are external problems," he said. "The season did end in difficult conditions," admitted Grosjean. "It was a particularly hard time for Eric Boullier. But it's in those moments that you see the strength of the team."
In the end, with the Quantum money so delayed, Boullier had no choice but to turn down Nico Hulkenberg
and sign the heavily-sponsored Maldonado to be Grosjean's 2014 teammate. Grosjean admits Hulkenberg would have been a "great" teammate, but he also thinks he can work well with the Venezuelan.
"We crossed a couple of times in GP2," he said, "but I think he is very fast on one lap. When everything is in order around him and with the car, and he is on top of the situation, he can be very fast, and we saw that in last year's Spanish grand prix," he said.
As for the departing Raikkonen, Grosjean said he had no relationship with the Finn at all. Indeed, some believe it was Raikkonen's superiority that exacerbated Grosjean's problems last year. "Kimi did his job superbly after coming back into formula one," Grosjean insisted.
"He became the leader of the team, even if Lotus has no division of 'driver 1' and 'driver 2'. Kimi of course is a special person, but we had no relationship. I was even surprised when he got to Spa and he said to me 'Congratulations on the birth of your child'. It was the only thing he said to me in two years." (GMM)