- The Inside Line
First lap nutcaseKate Walker November 22, 2013
While the history books will record Sebastian Vettel as the big winner of the 2013 Formula One season, in my opinion one must look slightly further down the pit lane to find the most impressive man in the pack.
Make no mistake - the stats themselves show that Vettel was the class of the field. But he has been for the past four years. We now expect SebVet to be the best. If a weekend goes by without the young German racer topping the timesheets in practice, claiming either pole or the win (or both), and almost certainly logging the fastest lap in the process, we turn our eyes to the heavens, watching out for flying pigs.
In a way, Vettel has set such a high standard for himself that he's drawn a line between him and the rest of the grid. They are racing drivers, and he is Sebastian Vettel, Record Breaker™.
For my money, Romain Grosjean has been the most impressive man in 2013, going from the first lap nutcase who didn't deserve a seat (I paraphrase) to a regular face in the post-race press conference.
In the 18 races we've run thus far, Grosjean has secured six podium finishes - that's a one in three result. The young Frenchman has been in the position to challenge for the win a few times this season, and presuming that the E22 is one of the front-runners next year he should be on course to claim his first F1 victory. Unless he manages to do that on Sunday, breaking Vettel's endless streak.
One year ago, Grosjean was at risk of dropping out of F1 entirely. Despite strong potential, the Lotus driver lacked consistency and the calm head needed to make it through the adrenaline rush of a grand prix start. Thanks to a combination of crashes he caused and collisions he was involved in, Grosjean's name was a byword for bad starts, for reckless driving.
And then he got married and had a child.
Usually fatherhood takes a few tenths off a racing driver. They dial back those reckless urges, driving with the same precision and slightly less aggression. In Grosjean's case, that appears to have been just the tonic needed to turn potential into talent. Calm, collected, and noticeably less flustered than he was in the past, a more mature Romain Grosjean has proved that Eric Boullier's faith in him was not mis-placed.
Of course, it's not just down to becoming a parent. Grosjean is more experienced than he was last year, and he has had the advantage of a team who have supported him in his efforts to get to the root of his earlier issues, as they have worked patiently and tirelessly with their young driver to give him the psychological tools he needed to work through that pre-start panic.
When it comes to personal growth and driver development, it is Romain Grosjean who has come furthest over the course of these past 12 months. With one race still remaining it might be somewhat premature to name him my driver of the year, but I can't think of another driver whose upward trajectory even begins to compare.