Interview with GP2 Champion Romain Grosjean
28 August 2011 – Romain Grosjean claimed his maiden GP2 Series title at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon, finishing third during a rain-hit Feature Race to collect the points he needed to take the crown. The Frenchman savours the moment, looks back at his highly successful season and ponders what lies just around the corner...
Romain, congratulations. You are the 2011 GP2 Series Champion. How does that sound?
Finally! It’s just fantastic. We’ve had a really hard season with such a high level of drivers and teams. I think that professionally and personally, this has been a very important season. The team DAMS has been really open-minded to listen to me and my suggestions. They worked really hard. They work very hard I can tell you.
We made some mistakes. Sometime they made them, other times I made them. That’s normal in a season. But at the end of the day, we managed to get everything right in the last four races. It’s true that I have had a bit of luck, but in every championship, you need to get that as well to make the difference. Today I am very pleased. I can see that the team is very emotional and that’s important for a driver to feel that everyone is behind him. It has been a very special season...
How important is this title in your career?
I want to say that at the beginning of the season, my management did not tell me to win the series. I’m a bit older than some of the drivers and I have more experience so my personal goal was to grab the title. But I knew also that I wanted to push DAMS and help them to get back at the top.
What they were missing when we started working together is not missing anymore. And I think they are the strongest team of the Series this season. I am proud of what we have accomplished. I wanted this title very much because it was missing in my career. Now it’s in the pocket. It’s an amazing feeling.
When the season started, everyone saw you as the man to beat, especially after you won the GP2 Asia Series again. Plus, you have a bit more experience than most drivers. Was that extra pressure?
Honestly, I don’t like it when I’m an outsider. But if you watch the results from last season in GP2, Barwa Addax, ART and iSport were stronger than DAMS. But this year with the new car and the new Pirelli tyres, we worked very hard. I have to say that we were completely lost in Abu Dhabi when the GP2 Asia season opened at the beginning of the year. Everyone thought we were hiding our true potential when we were P22 in the last test session before the season started.
And then, we realised that we needed to just keep working and start again from the beginning and we took pole position. And then the car started to work again. We were strong contenders, but we were also a team that needed to prove that they were able to get back to the top as they were a few years ago.
2009 and 2010 were very tough years for you. What did it take to get to this point today?
I think my career has been smooth until 2009. Everything was perfect. I was always in the right team, at the right place and at the right time. I went to SG Formula and became Formula Renault 2.0 Champion. I went then to ART in Formula 3 and became Champion. Then I stayed with the team in GP2 Asia Series and again, I became Champion.
Then the first year of GP2 was really great. I was P4 at the end of the season which was a fantastic result. I went to Formula One then and unfortunately it was at the wrong time, in the wrong place. But it has been important in my career and has definitely helped me get stronger. I realised after that I had a life outside Formula 1.
It has truly helped me enjoy the life in the paddock as well. Everyone can see that I’m smiling more. It’s because I have less pressure. I still work very hard and seriously, but I put less pressure on my shoulders. That’s the way I’m working now. I like to be relaxed. I like to smile a lot before going in the car. I make jokes even on the grid and then I can still manage to focus when it counts.
Talking about this season, when did you feel that you could actually become Champion?
I think Imola was important. We went to a track that nobody knew. We knew that it would give a good indication of what to expect in the GP2 Series later this season. And we were very strong. We took pole and won the first race. And then we went to Turkey, took pole again and won again. From then on, we knew we had a good pace, a good set-up and that we could improve on every race track.
Sometimes we did struggle a little because we were missing some speed, but the set-up was still good everywhere. That’s what you have to feel to become champion. At the start of the season, there were some ups and downs: we made a few mistakes which happens in a season. But the last four races were very good and that helped us build a gap in the standings.
The summer was long as well because we were 25 points ahead and everyone kept on telling me that I was going to be champion in Spa. I kept on telling them to relax a bit. And of course, you saw what happened in qualifying yesterday... It was a tough way to start the weekend. But I got P3 today and it was enough to become Champion with DAMS.
Five wins this season so far. Was there one that meant more to you?
I think the one from Silverstone was quite important. Everybody said that I had made a big mistake and that I was crazy in Valencia. I made one, I completely agree. That’s it. I got a ten grid place penalty and I went to Silverstone. It was tough, but during that race I was really patient. I made some nice overtaking manoeuvres at the end of the race especially on Giedo (van der Garde) which was important for the title race and then on Dani (Clos).
It was a strong win. And I think from then on, we were capable to score in both races and I showed that the mistake I made in Valencia did not mean that the 2009 Romain Grosjean was back. It was just some mistake that drivers do sometimes.
Looking ahead, almost every single GP2 Series Champion has gone straight to Formula one. Thoughts?
There is no rule unfortunately! I want to go back to Formula 1, of course, but at the moment nothing has been decided. My management, Lotus Renault GP or the team DAMS have been intelligent because they knew that in 2009 after the third race of the season, I was only thinking about F1.
This year, I did not want to make the same mistake so I kept my focus on GP2 exclusively. I have been to the F1 paddock as little as possible to focus here. Now that we are champions, I will have a look at what is going on upstairs, but at the moment, my main concern is to find a good contract for 2012 and nothing else. At least we still have a few months to think about it. Hopefully I can get a good seat in good conditions.
Would you say that GP2 has prepared you well for the next step?
This season has been watched closely by the F1 paddock because of the new tyres and the new car. Drivers have to think more about what they are doing in the car. You need to manage everything very well. We’ve had some tough races. Some of them were dry/wet/dry and some were really crazy races. Having won this title in difficult conditions was important and it has been seen by the big boss...hopefully!
GP2 Series: You have been racing on all three generations of GP2 cars. In your opinion, what makes the third generation car so special?
The first generation car had less power and was easy to drive. You didn’t have to think about anything. You just had to push with every lap. The second generation car was a bit more difficult. The 2009 season started out good, but like I said, I was thinking of the next step prematurely. I was not focused.
I like the new generation car a lot. It is much more stable and I like as well the way the Pirelli tyres are working through the race. During the races, the drivers have to really work on their driving style and on the preparation with the team.
Talking about Monza, I’m sure you would like to win there as well...
That would be really nice. First, we have another race tomorrow. I really want to score more points for the team. We are second in the teams standings which is not that bad considering that there’s only one driver who has scored points so far this season.
We need to keep scoring points and it’s true that I would like to score a double-win this season. Since it’s not going to be achievable in Spa, there’s only Monza left! It would be nice to finish on a win, but first of all we will try to score points.
Interview provided by the official GP2 website