Romain Grosjean burst fully onto the Formula One stage in 2012; sadly for him and for his supporters and I must emphasise that I am one of those, the majority of the headlines he was making were far from positive ones. I do not deny that he was a law unto himself at times and that the accident at Spa was rightfully punished, but it was the manner in which people wrote and spoke about him that I saw as unfair. He was correctly handed an almost unprecedented one race ban post Spa, but further that the human underneath the performer does not need to be vilified. Granted the press and the viewing audience are entitled to their opinions but creating a ‘pantomime villain’ through a ‘media witch hunt’ is a bit excessive and it was not far off that at times.
Romain Grosjean is not a bad person purely because the inexperienced performer element of his makeup made mistakes. Underneath every performer is a person and the performer element relies heavily on this person in order to perform at its best. We saw last season just how much the negative press hurt that person underneath Romain’s performer element and for me he was never quite the same after all the incidents.
Romain Grosjean strikes me as a driver who needs to have an arm around him at times. Sadly this is a luxury not always afforded in the testosterone fuelled and egotistic world of motorsport, even though it is vital to the makeup of a large percentage of drivers. On the other hand some drivers are very independent and self assured. They believe totally in their own ability and other people’s opinions towards them are water off a ducks back. You do not need to look very far afield to find one of these characters. On the other side of the garage at Lotus, you have a prime example in Kimi Raikkonen. He is not concerned about negative attitudes towards him. Neither is he hung up on how his behaviour affects others and certainly does not get flustered or affected by the pressures and responsibilities of being a Formula 1 driver.
Personally I quite like the ‘Kimi’ approach and so does his large fan base. I have to admit though, as a driver and a human being, I really struggle to adopt his attitude towards life and I am very much a guy who needs an arm round me at times like Grosjean.
Romain came into Formula 1 in his mind needing and wanting to prove his worth. To a certain extent, I think he did that last year as he showed elements of brilliance and blistering speed. Look at his start at Valencia; that was staggeringly accurate and clinical and look at his speed in Canada where he finished 2nd on the Sunday. In his first full half season of Formula 1, he scored 3 podiums but all that was quickly forgotten in an instance. His form dropped off dramatically after all the accidents. Off the track so did his personality and his body language at times was that of a broken man. Talking to the media in Japan he looked like a fox startled by a car’s headlights. If I am honest I felt sorry for him.
After the Japanese Grand Prix was where Romain Grosjean’s human element really needed protecting and to a large extent it looked like Lotus and Eric Bouillier did a reasonable job. They looked after their employee pretty well but it was the voices outside this hub that tore him to shreds. Wrongly or rightly, this is a separate topic for discussion. What I’d rather you asked yourselves is just how productive your reaction was back then. It is one thing having constructive comments and delivering them correctly but scorning an individual in my eyes serves no purpose. If people can look past Romain’s weaknesses and support him as a human being, the technical and tactical elements of his driving that he was struggling with will be easier to address. Through empowerment and confidence, it is amazing how much an athlete benefits. It helps eradicate self-doubt. Fear of failure no longer clouds your emotions and decision making becomes more calculated and clinical. Mistakes become a thing of the past.
If he is to succeed in 2013, Romain Grosjean needs support and empathy. I think he has that in abundance with the Lotus team around him; the very fact that Lotus have stuck by him is a glowing endorsement of his ability. His reaction, post-Christmas, to the news he was being retained for 2013 shows he realises that.
How would I approach 2013 if I were him? I would ensure I have a strong ‘Team YOU’ around me in order to help cope with the challenges that lie ahead. I would not look at the technical and tactical aspects of coaching primarily, but I would seek out individuals to support and mentor me to ensure that the doubters do not wreck my confidence come rain or shine. As I mentioned above, with an empowered mind-set, the correct decisions are easier to seek out during the heat of battle. Look at the Lendl-Murray example. Lendl has empowered Murray to channel his emotions correctly. His mind-set and decision making has really come of age.
Confidence is born on trust and intimacy and if Grosjean can find that bond with whomever it maybe at Lotus or beyond, then he will generate the feeling of support and reassurance he secretly craves. Subconsciously, this will give him the mind-set, belief and platform he deserves to become a ‘Superstar’ in 2013.