Not for the first time in his Formula 1 career, Romain Grosjean is a man under pressure after a tumultuous 2018 season so far.
Grosjean currently sits 15th in the drivers’ standings with 12 points from the first 10 races. Considering Haas’s short tenure in the sport, combined with its lack of resource and manpower, that could be considered a fair return at face value.
However, Haas has greatly exceeded expectations this season, delivering its best car yet and one with which it can regularly claim best-of-the-rest status at the head of F1’s hugely competitive midfield.
Grosjean’s team-mate Kevin Magnussen, by comparison, is enjoying his best season in F1. With the stability of having been with a team for more than one season for the first time, Magnussen has delivered 39 points. He has finished in the top 10 in six races – a feat Grosjean has only managed once in 2018.
The Dane’s strong form is responsible for having kept Haas in contention for fourth place in the constructors’ championship. Renault currently occupies the best-of-the-rest spot behind F1’s top three teams and Haas in fifth trails by 19 points.
When Grosjean’s deficit to Magnussen is considered, that is a painful 19 point margin. Grosjean’s shortcomings this season have not all been products of his own mistakes, but points finishes were almost unquestionably sacrificed due to errors in Azerbaijan, Spain and last weekend in Britain.
During the frantic race around Baku’s streets, Grosjean lost control while running in sixth place behind the safety car and ended up in the wall. In Spain, he spun at the long radius Turn 3, crossing the track and raising a smoke screen in the process. He collected Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly.
At Silverstone, a crash in practice after losing control at Abbey corner meant that he missed FP2 as a result of a chassis change. He then broke rule one of the racing driver handbook on lap one of the race, colliding with team-mate Magnussen. The Dane struggled with floor damage to an eventual 10th place. Grosjean later collided with Carlos Sainz Jr at Copse and the two ended up in the barriers.
This was a bitter disappointment considering Haas’s pace at Silverstone. Magnussen was seventh on the grid and despite his lack of Friday running, Grosjean started in eighth. The potential for a large haul of points was wasted by Grosjean and not for the first time in 2018.
These sacrificed points are critical in such a competitive midfield environment. For a low-resource team like Haas – even with its technical partnership with Ferrari – a high constructors’ championship finish and the resultant prize money is of huge value to the squad.
Prior to the race at Silverstone, team principal Gunther Steiner outlined that with the strong car performance delivered by the team this season, points in every race is the minimum expectation.
“In the end, what I expect is that they [the drivers] make points and bring results, that is what I expect,” he said.
“With Kevin, he’s doing very well this year, so everything is achieved. Romain had a little bit of a difficult start to the season, the first third of the season, but Romain is with us now for the third year and he did very well the first two years.
“He did take a bit chance when he joined us because we were not given a lot of chances to succeed in Formula 1 as a new team, because some of the teams before us didn’t make it, so I think out of respect we need to give him the support to give him the chance to make points and he did in Austria, so I hope he’s doing the same here but I expect points from the drivers with a car like ours every weekend.”
It’s clear that Grosjean hasn’t met expectations this season. Even accounting for the 12 points lost in Australia on account of the unsafe release from his pitstop, Grosjean’s meagre total compared with Magnussen and in stark contrast to the car performance illustrates one of Haas’s greatest weaknesses so far in 2018.
His seat is under pressure. Steiner notes that “out of respect” the team will provide him support and “give him the chance” to demonstrate the Grosjean that had once been heavily linked to a Ferrari drive. However, if his poor form continues, the team will have little choice but to explore its options for 2019.
What could save Grosjean in this regard is that, at present, options for a suitable replacement seem limited. The team operates a young driver programme and at present has two Formula 2 drivers within its stable – Trident’s Arjun Maini and Santino Ferrucci.
Maini is currently 15th in the F2 standings and has scored just one point in the last six races. Ferrucci’s status in the Haas programme is under threat after he picked up a four-race ban at Silverstone last weekend for ramming team-mate Maini after the chequered flag and incurred additional penalties for holding a mobile phone in the cockpit while driving to the grid for Sunday’s sprint race.
The team’s links with Ferrari has meant that the Scuderia’s development driver and 2016 GP2 series runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi has been linked with a drive.
While he would be a suitable replacement to field alongside Magnussen, recent rumours linking Sauber’s Charles Leclerc with a Ferrari seat would indicate that Giovinazzi’s F1 breakthrough would be more likely to come with Sauber as a replacement for fellow former Ferrari junior Leclerc.
External options outside of the Haas and Ferrari programmes are also limited, with more and more junior formulae drivers developing associations with F1 teams early in their careers. Haas’s dismissal of IndyCar drivers as viable options for F1 seats further reduces the pool of talent with which the team has under consideration.
As a result, Grosjean could escape a dreadful season with his F1 career intact. His aspirations of climbing the ladder and reaching a top team have been dashed – with 2018 shaping up to be the year in which a Ferrari seat finally becomes available, Grosjean’s dip in form has arrived at the worst time.
However, maintaining a seat with one of F1’s strongest performing midfield teams, relishing in its close association with Ferrari, must now be the short term target for Grosjean and given the situation in the driver market, he may be offered a get out of jail free card in this regard.