SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Apart from becoming a father over the August holiday break, Romain Grosjean has returned to the Belgian Grand Prix as a changed man on the track as well.
The Lotus Formula One driver was dubbed a ‘first lap nutcase’ by Australian Mark Webber last year and was banned for a race after causing a first corner collision at Spa that could have caused serious injury to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
The forced retirement for Alonso proved crucial to the championship, with the Spaniard missing out on his third title at the end of the season by three points to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
Webber hurled the insult at Grosjean in Japan after another collision that destroyed his hopes of a podium finish but the Red Bull driver told reporters at Spa that he was sure the Frenchman was reformed now.
“I think he’s changed. He had to, obviously... I think he’s done a better job this year - which wouldn’t be difficult, let’s be honest,” said the Australian, who is close to Alonso.
“It was a bit of a weird one with Jenson (Button) what he did on the top chicane in Budapest (last month), so every now and again you still see snapshots of some errors but I think he’s improved,” added Webber, the oldest and most outspoken driver on the grid, who is leaving F1 at the end of the year.
“But his move on (Ferrari’s Felipe) Massa was very, very good in Budapest.”
Grosjean finished sixth in Hungary, the last race before the European summer break, despite a drive-through penalty and a retrospective 20 second penalty for a clash with McLaren’s Button, and was third in Germany before that.
He was also third in Bahrain and has kept out of trouble at the starts.
“I think I have a different mind from the past,” he told reporters, making clear that the change had come long before the birth of his son.
“I think I’ve progressed a lot and worked on that and I think the 2013 starts prove that I did my duties. I’ll keep pushing and trying to do my best in every circumstance,” added the Frenchman.
“I’ll keep progressing, keep working and keep doing the same things and I’ll keep doing clean starts.”
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier, who is fighting to keep 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen at his team for next season in the face of interest from elsewhere, commended Grosjean for his attitude.
“It maybe took him a little while to settle down and start performing to the best of his ability. With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to see him learn from those experiences and to start delivering the kind of results we’ve always known he is capable of,” he told the team website (www.lotusf1.com).
“In Germany and Hungary he really put together the complete package over two consecutive weekends... if he can keep up this level, Romain can be a future contender for titles, I‘m sure of it,” Boullier added.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John O'Brien