Fittingly, Romain Grosjean’s 100th career Grand Prix start (101st entry) will come at Circuit of The Americas in Austin for the United States Grand Prix.
The Frenchman has never had a chance to race in a home Grand Prix, the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours having been knocked off the calendar after 2008, and with Grosjean not stepping up to F1 until 2009, and then returning in 2012.
But in his fifth full-time season and sixth overall, the Frenchman hits the century mark of Grand Prix starts at his team, Haas F1 Team’s, first home race since joining the grid this year.
“When I started in Formula One I thought it’ll just be one race after the other,” Grosjean reflected in the team’s pre-race advance.
“Then here we are at 100 Grands Prix, 10 podium finishes, a few points and lots of good memories, and some a little more difficult.”
That line speaks volumes about the career transformation Grosjean has had over that time.
He entered F1 under less than ideal circumstances with Renault in 2009, as a midseason replacement for the underperforming Nelson Piquet Jr. in a car that was less than ideal.
Come 2012, Grosjean was back full-time after a dominant run to the 2011 GP2 title. But even despite his first couple podiums, way too frequently he was in the headlines for incidents.
After causing the first turn pileup at that year’s Belgian Grand Prix, he received a one-race ban for the following Italian Grand Prix. After another dust-up with Mark Webber in Suzuka, the usually diplomatic but occasionally blustery Australian branded Grosjean a “first-lap nutcase.”
But in 2013, Grosjean was easily the most improved driver on the grid, scoring podiums at a rapid clip and very nearly winning his maiden Grand Prix on a couple occasions. Suzuka, in particular, stood out as an incredible drive despite ending third, as did Austin, where he secured his second career and most recent runner-up position. He ended a thus-far career best seventh in points with 132 points, which was up from eighth and 96 points a year earlier.
Grosjean fought through trying 2014 and 2015 seasons at Lotus but overachieved to score a podium in Belgium last year, site of his past indiscretion. All the while he maintained a largely positive public disposition, particularly in 2015 after losing out on quite a bit of running in first free practice to Jolyon Palmer.
This year, at Haas, Grosjean has blossomed even more as the star that the first-year team needed to spearhead its growth and development over its maiden campaign, along with teammate Esteban Gutierrez.
“The good thing is, I don’t know when I’m going to stop, but I think I’ve still got plenty of room in front of me to keep going and to keep trying to win,” he said. “Definitely 100 Grands Prix is quite something in my lifetime.
“For us, it couldn’t be better. I’m so proud to be part of this team and so proud to be able to bring the cars into Q3 in qualifying and bring points to the team. We’ve been working very hard and everyone is really giving 100 percent. It probably means more for us than other people.”
Grosjean expanded on what the year at Haas has meant to him during a media session held Tuesday in Charlotte, Haas’ U.S. headquarters.
“I met Gene last September. We spoke for half an hour. We shook hands and the deal was done. I never regret it,” Grosjean said.
“I made a decision joining Haas. I knew it could be good or bad. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can be the first driver to score the first point for a brand new team. Hopefully be on a podium one day wearing the Haas Automation colors. There is never a day where I woke up in the morning thinking I shouldn’t have done it. It’s a wonderful experience even though it is sometimes hard. But it’s great.”
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The start of the season bore great fruit for Grosjean, the famous sixth place at the team’s debut in Melbourne followed by an even better fifth place outing the next race in Bahrain. An eighth in Russia in the fourth round of the season only served to continue the momentum, with some 22 points achieved and a 75 percent scoring strike rate.
But with only one points score since, a seventh place at Austria in July, the early season results haven’t quite transferred. Brake issues have been the recent culprit, although things seemed to improve in Suzuka after rough outings in Singapore and Malaysia, most notably.
This is not for a lack of effort, but more owing to the reality of being a first-year team needing to learn the ropes at every Grand Prix.
“Yes,” Grosjean replied, without hesitation, when asked if the year was a success. “Coming to the first test with everything ready. Coming to the first race with everything ready and the cars being able to compete.
“Esteban had a crash with Fernando but we managed to score sixth and then the second race we did well. And then of course went through a more difficult time.
“But it wouldn’t have been normal not to go through that tough time and things wouldn’t have gone the normal way. Then we came back up, came back down and now I think we are now on an ascent, especially that we have to prepare for 2017 as well.
“There is a big change of regulation and the team swapped very early on to next year because the idea was to come to Formula One and then do better in year two and do better in year three. To achieve that as we put the bar higher, we needed to get all the resources working on the future project.”
Grosjean’s expectations haven’t changed per race, either. The Frenchman is determined not just to be finishing races, but winning them, or certainly achieving the maximum result possible.
That’s why an 11th in Suzuka was so frustrating – or as Grosjean termed it, “bloody annoying” – after both he and Esteban Gutierrez qualified in the top 10 for Haas in the same race for the first time; he felt it was one of the best races he’d ever driven, but came up empty from a points-scoring standpoint.
“I remember Sunday morning in Australia, I met Gene at breakfast and he told me, ‘Today, just go through Turn 1 and finish the race.’ In my mind, it was, ‘No, we want to finish the race but we want to go for it!’” Grosjean exclaimed.
“All the time, if I’m going to Austin this week, it’s because I want to do the best. I want to win the race. I know this is probably not going to happen because we don’t have the best car.
“If I am a competitor, it is to beat everyone else. I’ve never been to a grand prix thinking, “I’m just going to finish the race.”
“There’s no (expletive) way.”
Additional reporting from NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan in Charlotte. Look for more from Grosjean, Gutierrez and the Haas F1 Team with Nate later this week on NBCSports.com.