When Gene Haas searched for a primary driver to lead his team into its inaugural season in Formula 1, selecting an experienced pilot topped his list of priorities.
Haas believes he’s found that in Romain Grosjean.
Grosjean, 29, has 78 Grand Prix starts to his name and 10 podium finishes – most recently his third-place run in the Belgian Grand Prix in August. Although the team interviewed several drivers, Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner decided on Grosjean at Monza.
They studied a lot and tried to find out what the best way was to come into Formula 1. They have created a really good and really nice partnership with Ferrari
Romain Grosjean on Haas F1
Haas said his “primary goal is to score points”, which will be paramount to Haas F1 building its program long-term.
“He’s going to have a lot of work to do,” Haas said. “We’re going to depend heavily on him to help us with our strategy with the car, with the race tracks and just the learning of the whole operation of a F1 team.”
Although Grosjean has been part of the furniture at the financially troubled Lotus team since 2012, in which time he has gone from being the quick-but-error prone "first lap nutcase" to one of the most consistent performers on the grid, the prospect of “something new” appealed to the Frenchman.
Haas brings a new approach
“I think Gene comes in with a new approach,” Grosjean told Motorsport.com. “They studied a lot and tried to find out what the best way was to come into Formula 1. They have created a really good and really nice partnership with Ferrari to get the important parts of the car and they don’t have to build everything which takes a lot of time and energy and money and you don’t even know if you’re going to get it right.
“All of that makes me think that this could be a really good option. I think having the support of America – which is such a big country – behind us will be quite special as well. I’m proud to (represent). It’s good for me. It’s good for the team. And when they were looking for good drivers, I thought, ‘wow, this could be a chance to change my career – come to a new team, come to a new start’. And if we’re in the points the first race of the season, how awesome would that be? And that’s what we want.”
When we spoke with him, I could feel he was still wants to show what he can do. He’s still hungry
Guenther Steiner on the hiring of Romain Grosjean
Grosjean acknowledged that the Ferrari alliance made Haas’ offer an attractive proposition.
“They are bring the parts – and they are good parts,” Grosjean added. “We know when we go to first winter testing, the car should be up and running. We shouldn’t have any problem with new parts or if the design doesn’t work. We’re going to get a baseline that should work and we’ll be able to go for it. We know the Ferrari engine is a good engine. And of course, being close to the Scuderia – for any driver in the world is important.”
Having worked in F1 before, most notably as Jaguar and Red Bull technical director, Steiner had the luxury of watching Grosjean mature from his first Grand Prix foray with Renault in 2009, after which he was unceremoniously dumped and forced to rebuild his career with title-winning campaigns in AutoGP and GP2 before being handed a return to the Enstone fold in 2012.
Grosjean a driver with something to prove
Steiner appreciates that at the age of 29, when many drivers simply rest on their laurels, Grosjean, who remains in search of that elusive maiden victory, still has something to prove.
“The main thing is experience,” Steiner told Motorsport.com. “You might ask why not go for an even more experienced driver? Well, sometimes they don’t have to drive any more. When we spoke with him, I could feel he was still wants to show what he can do. He’s still hungry.
“He’s quick. He made some mistakes when he was younger, when he was a rookie – and that’s exactly what we don’t want. We do not want a driver the way Romain Grosjean was five years ago – fast but making damage everywhere. He has shown that he knows not to do it again. He’s made his mark. He knows what not to do.”
Steiner also admires Grosjean’s technical savvy which he gained from working with Lotus and Renault, which is close to finalising its return to Grand Prix racing next year as a constructor for the first time since 2010 - and will be lamenting the fact Grosjean will not be spearheading its efforts.
“Plus he has the experience to work with a good team – as much as they’re in financial trouble – the team, the quality of the technical people is quite high,” Steiner added. “It’s one of the teams with a good history where engineers have come out of and gone on to other good teams – Benetton, Renault, there’s a lot history there. So he worked with good people that know what they’re doing and he had the possibility to learn from a big team.
“If he says something, we can believe him – otherwise we are done. If we try to question him because he has history - he knows how to do it. He’s been fast. He’s been on the podium. He knows how it feels and he wants to get back up there. He’s not on a retirement tour. He’s 29 – and he wants more of it.”