Had you asked him about his podium chances before the Indian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean would have said you were crazy. I guess we all need to be institutionalized then, because Grosjean put together one of the most composed and mature drives of the season as he stormed his way from 17th on the grid all the way to the podium, dispensing the likes of Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and teammate Kimi Raikkonen along the way. In fact, Grosjean’s drive today was akin to many performances from Raikkonen this season, where podium finishes seemed to come out of the blue.
The key to Grosjean’s race was his singular stop. It was a risky move, and one that he and only one other driver (Adrian Sutil) managed to pull off. However, managing his tire wear in the tricky traffic in the back of the midfield, Grosjean managed an impressive 13 laps on his soft tires when most stopped as many as six laps before him. His pace on the old soft tires was particularly shocking, as when most of the field lapped in the high 1:34s, the impressive Frenchman managed mid to high 1:33s. This was the key to him making up places early on once he finally did stop.
From then on, it was a race of extreme tire management. The stop on lap 13 necessitated a 47 lap stint on the medium tires, something not seen as possible at the start of the weekend. Not only did Grosjean manage to conserve his tires to the end of the race, he was able to actually race drivers on his way to the podium.
His coming together with Raikkonen was awkward, and the heavy profanity from Raikkonen’s engineer over the radio when the two drivers nearly banged wheels at the end of the back straight in the closing laps highlights the tension that has begun to develop within the team as Grosjean has hit his stride. Raikkonen was struggling badly on his tires at that time (he was attempting a one-stop strategy as well), and was lapping about two seconds per lap slower than Grosjean, so the way he battled for position with his teammate was ill-advised, and probably was the cause of his late stop two laps from the end of the race.
This incident only managed to make Grosjean look better and better, as he maturely gave the place back to Raikkonen after overtaking him out of the limits of the track and re-passing in a more suitable location. His tire management was also better than his teammate’s, who, admittedly, had some brake issues to deal with throughout the race.
Grosjean is on an incredible roll at the moment. His third podium in as many races is cementing his place in the sport for the long haul. Whoever Lotus choose as his teammate for 2014 will have their work cut out for them to beat the talented Frenchman. Let’s hope this incredible string of results continues for a long time.