Accident prone Grosjean once again at the centre of a storm

Romain Grosjean was once again at the centre of a storm after the Japanese Grand Prix following his controversial collusion with Mark Webber on the opening lap at Suzuka.

The Lotus driver made a good start from fourth on the grid and was battling with Sergio Perez into the first corner when he crashed into the back of Webber’s Red Bull.

The crash robbed the Australian of any chance of challenging his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, for the victory and left Grosjean once more feeling the wrath of the race stewards.

Having been banned from last month’s Italian race the Lotus driver was handed a 10 second stop and go penalty for “causing an avoidable accident” and both drivers were effectively ruined by the crash.

Afterwards the Frenchman came under fire from Webber and most of the paddock who called for a variety of sanctions against the reigning GP2 champion.

Webber called his rival a “nutcase” and said that a further race ban would be his preferred punishment in the hopes that it would make Grosjean realise that races are not won on the opening lap.

Webber’s team manager, Christian Horner, also called for Grosjean to be sanctioned while McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh simply said that it was “typical Grosjean.” Many ex-racers, including three time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert, said that Lotus should cut their losses and fire Grosjean.

The Englishman has a point given that Gorsjean’s accidents have cost the team points throughout the season and with the fight with Ferrari for third in the Constructors’ Championship balanced on a knife edge it is clear that having two consistent points scoring drivers would have made a tremendous difference in the table.

There are some options available to Lotus such as Jamie Alguersuari, who has spent the season as a Pirelli test driver, and he would at least offer the team a more experienced pair of hands but he lacks the outright speed that Grosjean offers to the Enstone squad.

Grosjean’s long term future is surely secure at Lotus. He is managed by team boss Eric Bouilier and his turn of speed has been hugely impressive this year. He has been a match for Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying but the numerous early race incidents have blighted his campaign and left his reputation in tatters amongst the rest of the grid.

When he made his F1 debut in 2009 in place of Nelson Piquet after the “crashgate” saga that engulfed the then Renault team he made mistakes in the early laps, including crashing with championship challenger Jenson Button at Spa, and was dropped at the end of the season.

In GP2 last year Grosjean attempted to try and improve his standing and earn a return to Formula 1. Winning the title gave him a chance to race for Lotus this year and he repaid their faith immediately with a second row start in Melbourne but with the first lap crashes accumulating throughout the year he is now under severe pressure.

His crashes in Monaco, Spa and Suzuka have all been as a result of a driver not being aware of his surroundings.

The stewards throughout 2012 have said that numerous accidents have come as a result of drivers from the “Playstation Generation” not having an understanding of the consequences of accidents. With ever improving safety we have seen each driver on the grid push the boundaries of acceptable racing and it has been clear for some time that it was crucial for driving standards to be cleaned up.

Grosjean has been a targeted driver because of his numerous accidents and has had a lot of attention focused on him. His mistake in Spa was as a result of seemingly not knowing the width of his car, similar to his Monaco crash with Schumacher, and as a result the lack of experience of young drivers has to be examined.

As recently as 2007-when Lewis Hamilton, Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalianen all made their debuts-rookie drivers came to F1 with tremendous experience of the cars through extensive testing. With testing now severely restricted there is little opportunity for young drivers to gain this level of experience.

The use of simulators is heavily documented and while it is a tremendous tool for teams and drivers to find a baseline setup and evaluate new parts it might also be playing a role in some accidents for younger drivers. The simulator may be giving drivers a slightly unrealistic viewpoint on certain elements of the car.

Drivers get a chance to see how the car handles but do they get the chance to race wheel to wheel and see how the car reacts in those situations?

Pastor Maldonado and Grosjean have been the poster boys for careless accidents this year but given their lack of mileage and the fact that their running is so severely restricted throughout the year their problems may be exaggerated by the testing ban.

Formula 1 may need to find some way of allowing younger racers to get the necessary experience while still keeping a cap on costs. A possible solution would be to allow testing on the Monday following a Grand Prix and give the drivers’ the chance to get more running.

When Grosjean spoke after the race and admitted that the accident was his fault it was clear that he was annoyed with himself at the series of crashes. His speed is hugely impressive but his confidence in his race-craft has clearly taken a hit. When your confidence is low you are not using your instincts and mistakes can happen.

In Suzuka Grosjean focused on Perez and defending his fourth place and he took his eye off the ball and did not notice Webber braking and he simply could not react in time to avoid the accident.

It was a big mistake by Romain and it is imperative that he learns from his mistake. Whether the best option for his team is to force him to sit out a couple of races and giving him the time to get his focus back or else it is by offering him support remains to be seen but the rest of the grid are clearly running out of patience with the Frenchman.

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