Allan McNish column: Romain Grosjean impresses at Spanish GP

Highlights: Hamilton holds on to win in Spain

Lotus driver Romain Grosjean was the star of the Spanish Grand Prix for me.

The Lotus is still very hard to drive because the team have not completely sorted it yet after a difficult start to the season, but Grosjean qualified it fifth on the grid and went on to finish eighth in the race despite serious problems.

In the circumstances, Grosjean did a really good job to finish ahead of both Force Indias and both McLarens and not far off the two Ferraris.

The car had sensor problems from lap 12, so the quick-shift gear change did not work, and the power delivery was inconsistent - the engine was running on less than optimum cylinders all the time.

That obviously hampered Grosjean quite a bit, so all in all it was a pretty strong drive. It was a very measured performance; the sort that in his crash-strewn 2012 season might well not have happened.

Lotus were one of the leading teams of last season, but budgetary problems through 2013 impacted on the design and build programme of this year's car.

That meant a late start to testing and the problems engine supplier Renault suffered with all its teams in pre-season hit Lotus particularly badly because of that delay.

The upshot was they went into the season with a completely unsorted car, and progress was further delayed as the reliability problems - the sort teams would normally deal with before the season began - continued through the first few races.

Now, though, both cars are reliable and running for pretty much as long as everyone else, but the team are still catching up.

Grosjean's qualifying form is a good illustration of the progress Lotus have made this season.

He was 22nd in Australia, 15th in Malaysia, 16th in Bahrain, 10th in China and then fifth in Spain.

Lotus never really appeared on my radar when we were commentating on second practice on Friday, when the teams do their race-simulation runs.

The radio communications we heard were that the car was inconsistent. Grosjean was struggling on the brakes into turn 10, presumably with the behaviour of the energy recovery and brake-by-wire system.

2012 F1 season: Crashes dog Lotus's Romain Grosjean

It did not look a nice car to drive. It was only on Saturday that it began to look like it had consistent balance. But even though the car was better, to drag fifth out of it and put the car higher than it really should have been was down to the driver getting hold of it and slinging it around.

It was a stark contrast to team-mate Pastor Maldonado, who showed some good pace on Friday but then crashed on his first lap in qualifying. That put him last on the grid - and then he collided with Marcus Ericsson's Caterham early in the race and earned himself a drive-through penalty. He finished 15th.

In lots of ways, Maldonado's struggles illustrate Grosjean's growing stature - the Franco-Swiss had all those problems in the race and was still able to get the team's first points of the year out of it.

Last year, Grosjean had Kimi Raikkonen as his team leader. Raikkonen has gone now and Grosjean has had to take over his position. Maldonado is a quick driver but it is clear Grosjean is the one they are looking at to drag the points out.

Grosjean is the same talent, with more potential and experience than last year. The problem is that in this car, it will be difficult to show it.

Lotus are not struggling financially as badly as some would have you believe, but nevertheless they are a long way off the budgets of the top teams so those points Groisjean scored on Sunday are really important.


Among the support categories at the Spanish Grand Prix was the GP3 feeder series,external-link and one of the two races was won by a young British driver called Dean Stoneman.

There is an amazing story behind this 23-year-old aspiring F1 driver.

In 2010, he won the title in the first year of the revival of the Formula Two series, for which the prize was a test drive with Williams, which he did at the end of the season in Abu Dhabi.

He signed for 2011 to do the Renault 3.5 series, the category from which Kevin Magnussen has graduated to F1 with McLaren this season. But then Stoneman was diagnosed with testicular cancer and did not race in 2011 or 2012.

He returned to racing in 2013 in the Porsche Cup in the UK, winning both races on his debut weekend, and did a one-off GP3 drive at the end of last year, taking second place in Abu Dhabi, having driven the car only at the race weekend.

That got him signed up as a young driver by the Marussia F1 team, who rate him highly, and Stoneman is driving for their junior outfit Manor in GP3 this year.

Last weekend was the first race weekend of the new season and he won the second race in damp and greasy conditions.

The kid has clearly got talent; he can jump into things and do well straight away. And to come back from cancer in the way he has proves he has enormous determination as well.

The other race was won by another promising Brit, Alex Lynn, who is part of the Red Bull young driver programme.

It is far too early to say whether either of those guys are going to be the next Lewis Hamilton, but they are certainly promising members of the next generation of British racing talent.

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