MAURICE HAMILTON

Grosjean: A personal and public message


There is no better way to sharpen a Formula 1 driver's priorities than to give him nothing to do on a Grand Prix weekend. His entire raison d'etre is totally undermined by having to stand with his hands in his pockets and join the watching world. It's even worse when he sees another driver climb into his race car.

Romain Grosjean will have plenty of time for self-analysis when he watches Jerome D'Ambrosio take Lotus number 10 onto the track at Monza and do his best with what is considered to be a reasonable F1 car. The fact that his mechanics have been busy rebuilding the Lotus might not cause Grosjean to lose much sleep. But the cause of their labours certainly should.

It has been suggested in some quarters that the one-race ban is not fair because Grosjean only made 'a minor misjudgement' when he tried to edge Lewis Hamilton onto the grass seconds after the start of last Sunday's race at Spa. Hamilton was perfectly entitled to hold his straight course, even when threatened by the Lotus suddenly appearing to his left. Anyone who suggests Hamilton should have backed off or got onto the grass is condoning Grosjean's tactic to the point where intimidation = always a part of motor sport = crosses the line into bullying with potentially lethal consequences.

Let's take a more benevolent view and agree that Grosjean did indeed miscalculate the juxtaposition of the Lotus and the McLaren. That judgement was not so much flawed as careless; an indication of how drivers these days feel such things don't really matter and they can bang wheels with impunity.

You could say it started with Ayrton Senna driving into the back of Alain Prost at Suzuka in 1990, with Michael Schumacher being the first of many to embrace the theory and, like Senna, get away with it. Now it is accepted practice thanks to the design and build quality of cars that are much safer than they were.

If you doubt that then just watch the GP3 and, to a lesser extent, the GP2 races at Spa last weekend. The standard of driving was, on occasions, truly shocking but, nine times out of ten, the drivers concerned would be offended and, in some cases, puzzled by such criticism. Had Grosjean gone unpunished then, clearly, such cavalier behaviour in a tightly packed field going the 260 metres into a hairpin is perfectly okay.

You might say Grosjean is being made an example. Or, as I read in one blog, he has been harshly treated for a minor misdemeanour that happened to have major consequences. Forgetting his track record (I don't necessarily include the Monaco first corner collision because he was squeezed to some degree by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari), the point is that Grosjean's actions came perilously close to causing a tragedy. What would his supporters have said if Alonso had suffered head injuries? It's the possible consequences of thoughtless win-at-all-costs behaviour that matter here.

In the GP3 race, one incident involved Robert Cregan as he ran on the outside of what became a three-abreast downhill charge on the very fast approach to Pouhon. The inevitable contact saw the left-rear suspension broken on Cregan's car, spinning him backwards at unabated speed into the tyre barrier, where the flapping wheel then smacked him on the back of the head.

The young Irishman was removed to hospital with a sore neck. A scan revealed no lasting damage and he was sent home for an early night with an ice pack. But.... the rest surely does not need to be said?

It's an interesting coincidence that Grosjean should be serving his time at Monza. This was where Senna received the shock of his life in 1984 when the Toleman team had the audacity to suspend the precocious Brazilian for one race. Toleman (later to become Benetton) were upset that Senna had signed with Lotus for the following season without so much as a word to the team that had given him his F1 break. So they decided to teach him about respect.

I'll never forget his bemused look 'How could they do this = to me?' as he stood like a lost soul in the paddock, decked out in the immaculate white and blue sports gear of his (Italian, no less) sponsor, Tacchini. A young man all dressed up with nowhere to go.

There is absolutely no comparison with the circumstances behind the Grosjean ban. But the purpose of the message is similar even if, this weekend, it is public as well as personal.

End note: Brilliant Gold for Alex Zanardi (last week's column) won handsomely, like a true racer. Simply superb.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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