Grosjean back on track in F1 return
By CHRIS LINES
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Romain Grosjean provided the shock of Saturday's qualifying session at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, rocketing his Lotus to third place and providing a salutary lesson in persistence and self-belief.
When the Frenchman departed Formula One after a brief, error-strewn spell in 2009, it was hard to envisage him ever returning.
Yet three years later, he found himself posing for photos in pitlane Saturday, having come within four tenths of a second of claiming pole position. And in the process he had upstaged the team's high-profile recruit Kimi Raikkonen, who was languishing down in 18th.
"Never give up. That is the lesson," a jubilant Grosjean said. "It's not a dream, we did it, and we can be proud of it."
Grosjean, 25, arrived in F1 in 2009 in the worst imaginable circumstances. He was rushed into the Renault team - the forerunner to Lotus - after Nelson Piquet Jr. had been fired and in the wake of the Singapore 'Crashgate' scandal which later caused Renault to pull out as a team owner and saw team boss Flavio Briatore banned from the sport indefinitely.
Cast in the unenviable role of Fernando Alonso's teammate, Grosjean made a succession of rookie mistakes, and when he departed at season's end, it was assumed he would simply join the long list of drivers who were given a shot but did not make the most of it.
However the Frenchman rebounded impressively and won the GP2 series - the second-tier of international open-wheel racing - in 2011 to boost his chances of an F1 recall.
There was a long list of candidates to fill the second Lotus seat this season, led by the two drivers that finished 2011 with the team: the sponsor-rich Russian Vitaly Petrov and Brazilian Bruno Senna.
Grosjean vaulted ahead of them, largely because of his French nationality, with team oil supplier and sponsor Total eager for a Gallic presence in the team.
"A few people believed in me in the toughest times and today I am back, almost at the top," Grosjean said Saturday.
When Kimi Raikkonen was signed as the No.1 driver, replacing the injured Robert Kubica, it was expected that Grosjean would be the distinct No.2, but on Saturday's evidence, he may have the ability to upstage the former world champion.
On the other hand, the Lotus team only has to cast its mind back to last year's Australian Grand Prix to recall a previous false dawn. Petrov finished third in Melbourne last season, but got nowhere near a podium for the remainder of the season as the team fell further and further off the pace.
Updated March 17, 2012