Stewart wonders if there’s been a loss of perspective in the debate over Romain Grosjean’s first-lap blunders:
Any chance of doing one of your reviews on all of Romain Grosjean’s first lap incidents and determining how many we’re his fault/racing incidents/not his fault?
There’s some mass hysteria flying around and I was wondering if perception has overtaken reality?
Grosjean leapt to notoriety after sparking a collision on the first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix which succeeding in wiping out himself along with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez, as well as spoiling Kamui Kobayashi’s race.
In the aftermath Alonso was the first person to put a figure on the damage Grosjean has caused. “It’s true that in twelve races Romain had seven crashes at the start,” said the Ferrari driver.
Last Sunday Grosjean added another to his first lap wreck count, clumsily bumping into Mark Webber on the first lap at Suzuka. This gave the impression that the necessary lessons hadn’t been learned and there were fresh calls for further bans. After all, he’s now been responsible for eight first-lap crashes.
Or has he? As Stewart suggests, let’s take a look at what happened in those eight races:
|Australia||Pastor Maldonado||Grosjean clips Maldonado’s car while being overtaken on inside||Grosjean retires||Occurred on lap two|
|Malaysia||Michael Schumacher||Schumacher and Grosjean make contact as Schumacher attempts to pass on outside||Schumacher and Grosjean delayed|
|Spain||Sergio Perez||Contact punctures Perez’s tyre||Perez delayed|
|Monaco||Michael Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi||Grosjean and Schumacher made contact, spinning Grosjean in front of oncoming cars||Grosjean and Kobayashi retire||Grosjean moved left to avoid Alonso on his right, who moved left|
|Britain||Paul di Resta||Contact punctures di Resta’s tyre||Di Resta retires|
|Germany||Felipe Massa||Grosjean and Massa make contact||Grosjean delayed||Massa had slowed with front wing damage from an early collision|
|Belgium||Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, Kamui Kobayashi||Grosjean collides with Hamilton, the pair lose control and hit others||Hamilton, Alonso, Perez and Grosjean retire, Kobayashi delayed and damaged||One-race ban for Grosjean||Grosjean and Lotus did not appeal against the ban|
|Japan||Mark Webber||Grosjean runs into Webber under braking||Grosjean and Webber delayed||Ten-second stop-go for Grosjean|
How many of these collisions were Grosjean’s fault? The stewards did not punish him for any of these incidents until the crash at Spa. He was also penalised for the crash in Japan.
But it doesn’t necessarily follow that he should only be blamed for those two collisions. It is clear from past precedent that stewards generally do not issue penalties for incidents where the instigator bears the brunt of the consequences.
However few of Grosjean’s incidents prior to Spa really compare with the seriousness of the mistake he made there. Most of them can be put down to the sort of contact which generally happens at the start of races, particularly in the midfield where Grosjean often finds himself.
The Monaco crash had most in common with the Spa collision, as it began when Grosjean moved into the path of another rival. But in mitigation, Grosjean was moving left to avoid Alonso.
As Alonso himself discovered in Suzuka, if you are between two cars and the one on the right moves towards you, it leaves you the choice of waiting to be hit or moving left and hoping the other driver gets out of the way.
Of the half-dozen incidents that occurred before Spa, it’s hard to make a case for Grosjean as the sole instigator of any of them. ‘Racing incident’ is the phrase I’d use to describe a lot of them. It’s a view which I think is supported by the absence of any punishments for the first six.
Grosjean said his Suzuka crash came about in part because he was trying to avoid tangling with Perez, who was on his left at the time. While this in no way excuses his mistake, it does show that Grosjean has taken the lesson from Spa onboard.
We should also question why the stewards, having declined to punish Grosjean for any of his previous incidents, went for the ‘nuclear’ option in response to the Spa crash. I find it troubling that the stewards’ decision specifically referred to the effect the crash had on the championship (emphasis added):
The stewards regard this incident as an extremely serious breach of the regulations which had the potential to cause injury to others. It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race.
Clearly, all drivers should be considered equal in the stewards’ eyes. Incidents should not be punished a more severe way merely if they involve championship contenders. By imposing such a swingeing penalty on Grosjean the stewards appeared to be too concerned with the consequences of the collision rather than the nature of Grosjean’s misdemeanour.
After Suzuka, Grosjean knows his every twitch of the steering wheel will be scrutinised for wrongdoing. His rivals are aware of his record and how urgently he needs to avoid future incidents. He can expect rough treatment at the start on Sunday and for several more races to come.
In my view, there was little in Grosjean’s driving before Spa to suggest that such a major accident was around the corner. Some may find that a generous views. But either way, it is imperative he avoids further collisions with his rivals.
Particularly, it would seem, those in contention for the championship.
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