Romain Grosjean was left struggling to hold back his tears after finishing sixth in the Haas team’s very first Formula 1 race, comparing the result to a race win.
Gene Haas saw his eponymous operation make history on Sunday in Australia as it became the first American team to race in F1 for 30 years.
Expectations were relatively low heading into the first race of the season, with points at some stage in 2016 being the rather modest target that had been set by the bosses at Kannapolis and Banbury.
Grosjean started from 19th on the grid and slowly made his way up the order with a long first stint, running ninth when the race was red flagged after a crash involving Esteban Gutierrez in the second Haas car.
Under the red flag, Grosjean was permitted to change the tires on his car, effectively giving him a free pit stop. Haas elected to fit the car with mediums that would enable him to go to the end of the race without stopping again.
Grosjean kept his cool ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas behind, and picked up three more positions when Kimi Raikkonen retired and the Toro Rosso pair of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. pitted.
Despite having just over one hour’s worth of dry running in Melbourne under his belt, Grosjean was able to stay in control in the closing stages to keep the train of cars following back.
The Frenchman crossed the line to be greeted by many of his colleagues cheering and waving from the pit gantry as Haas became the first start-up team to score points on debut since Toyota in 2002.
Grosjean struggled to hold back the tears as he returned to the pits, radioing over to his team “It’s a win for us – it’s like a win!” – before then blurting out: “I don’t even know where we finished?!”
Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.
Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.