Romain Grosjean, GP2, Nurburgring, 2011

Grosjean on cusp of GP2 title – and F1 comeback?

GP2Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Romain Grosjean, GP2, Nurburgring, 2011
Grosjean has won five times in GP2 this year

Romain Grosjean can claim the GP2 championship in next weekend’s two races supporting the Belgian Grand Prix.

Grosjean heads into the weekend knowing he only needs to maintain the gap over his pursuers to claim the title.

And it could pave the way to a return to F1 – in a more long-term capacity than his brief stint with Renault at the end of 2009.

Grosjean began the season with an emphatic win from pole position in Turkey. But it’s not been plain sailing for him since then.

He was stripped of fourth place in Spain after failing a ride height test, and battled from last on the grid to ninth in the sprint race.

After a chaotic qualifying session at Monaco he started last again, before impressively hauling his car from 26th to fourth via an inspired strategy.

He was back on the top step of the podium in Valencia but in the sprint race he collided with Sam Bird and Davide Valsecchi on the first lap and crashed out. But since that setback he’s finished every race in the top four.

Winning the championship would give him a strong claim to a place at F1 in 2012. Only once in the six-year history of GP2 has its champion failed to find a seat in F1 the next year.

Grosjean’s close ties with Renault team principal Eric Boullier could help him avoid the fate of Giorgio Pantano.

On paper both of the team’s seats for next year are occupied by Vitaly Petrov and the injured Robert Kubica.

But the situation regarding Kubica’s seat is far less clear. Doubts remain over when and if he will be able to return. He is due to undergo a further operation later this month, which may shed light on the situation.

Last month Boullier sang Grosjean’s praises, saying he “has the potential to be one of the big boys” and is “much more mature than two years ago” when he made his first seven starts in F1.

In Hungary, Renault gave Bruno Senna a run in the first practice session in place of Nick Heidfeld to assess his pace.

If they’re seriously considering Grosjean for a place in the team next year they may do the same for him after the GP2 season finishes at Monza – as happened with fellow Gravity Sports Management member Jerome d’Ambrosio at Virgin last year.

What about Bianchi?

Jules Bianchi, Christian Vietoris, GP2, Silverstone, 2011
Bianchi held Vietoris back in a gripping battle at Silverstone

The anticipated battle between Grosjean and Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi has largely failed to materialise.

There were signs of it in Turkey where the pair clashed on-track. At the Nurburgring Grosjean pressured Bianchi into a crucial mistake on the penultimate lap and stole victory off him.

But other than that Bianchi has often failed to figure in the battle at the front, and usually through his own doing.

He lost his pole position in Spain after being found to have ignored yellow flags during his lap. He collided with Giedo van der Garde on the run to turn one in the sprint race, putting him out.

Astonishingly he hit the same driver again in the next race at Monaco, though Bianchi’s defence his car had developed an hydraulic problem at the time.

Another first-corner crash, this time with Marcus Ericsson, ruined his weekend in Valencia, though he recovered from 24th to seventh in the sprint race.

At Silverstone we finally saw a race and result worthy of his obvious talent. Bianchi took victory after a thrilling scrap with Christian Vietoris which ranks as one of the most exciting races I’ve seen all year.

But it didn’t proved the turning point in his season it should have. After a lacklustre weekend in Hungary Bianchi lies fourth in the drivers’ standings with less than half Grosjean’s points tally.

He retains a mathematical, though wholly unrealistic, chance of winning the championship.

Second place is conceivably within his reach and it’s worth bearing in mind that every GP2 runner-up has gone on to compete in Formula 1. But it’s not the performance or result that was expected from him at the start of the season.

Do you think Grosjean or Bianchi deserve a place in F1 next year? What about the likes of Giedo van der Gade, Sam Bird or Davide Valsecchi? Have your say in the comments.

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