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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.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.