From crash kid to shining star, Grosjean now seeks redemption in Monaco

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A lot can change in a year. Romain Grosjean knows that better than anyone. Following last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, his Formula 1 career appeared to be in the balance, but he has since reformed himself into one of the sport’s brightest talents.

On lap 61 of the race in 2013, Grosjean was trailing Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo coming out of the tunnel. The Frenchman attempted to make a pass heading into the chicane, but made a severe misjudgement. The Lotus destroyed the back of the Toro Rosso, and both drivers were fortunate to walk away unharmed. Ricciardo, in his ever positive style, brushed it off, but it was Gorsjean’s third crash of the weekend. Clearly, there were more serious problems at Lotus.

Grosjean had debuted in F1 back in 2009 as a mid-season replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr. at Renault, but was not retained. He bravely stepped back down into the junior categories, and excelled, winning the GP2 title in 2011. A full-time seat with Lotus beckoned in 2012, and although he did score three podium finishes, there were too many accidents. He even received a ban for causing the first corner pile-up at the Belgian Grand Prix.

He made an okay start to the 2013 season, picking up a podium finish in Bahrain, but DNFs in Spain and Monaco – where he also crashed twice in practice and qualifying – put him under pressure. To make matters worse, it was common knowledge that he was on a three race rolling contract. Many pundits believed that had Eric Boullier – a long time supporter – not been in charge at Lotus, he would have been dropped.

Further non-scores in Canada and Great Britain really put the heat on Grosjean, and another first-corner incident with Mark Webber led to the Australian coining the term “Grosjeaned” (verb, to be unnecessarily hit on track).

When we sat down with Romain at the Nurburgring, it was clear that he was incredibly frustrated after not having much luck at Silverstone the week before. “I’m doing my best,” he said, with a tone that suggested he was running out of ideas. “Hopefully things will come together.”

And come together they did. That very weekend, Romain came close to winning his first ever grand prix. Ultimately, he had to yield second place to Kimi Raikkonen, but he came home in P3 with a huge smile on his face.

This run didn’t stop in Germany, though. He scored a further four podiums, and scored points in every race he finished. In Austin, he came home in a brilliant second place behind Sebastian Vettel, and it was clear that everything had changed.

Even at the beginning of this year, Grosjean has established himself as team leader at Lotus. Whilst new teammate Pastor Maldonado has spent most of his time kicking around towards the back – or, worse, in the wall – Romain has risen to the challenge. In Spain, he qualified a superb P5, and brought the car home in eighth after a power unit problem.

In Monaco next weekend, there will be the idea of redemption playing on Romain’s mind. Even just some points would be enough to prove how much has changed over the past 12 months; it’s a good news story for one of the truly nice guys in the sport.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”