SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Romain Grosjean banished the spectre of Spa and gave a huge boost to his financially-troubled Lotus team on Sunday with his first Formula One podium appearance since 2013.
In 2012, the Frenchman — subsequently dubbed a ‘first lap nutcase’ by Australian Mark Webber — was banned for one race after he caused a pile-up at the start of that year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Grosjean’s Lotus was launched into the air after banging wheels with current world champion Lewis Hamilton, skimming across Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and narrowly missing the Spaniard’s head.
“Of course, going into turn one, every time I take a start in Spa I will remember 2012 but I think it made me stronger and indeed allowed me to be 10 times on the podium,” he said on Sunday after finishing third behind Mercedes’ winner Hamilton.
Starting ninth, after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, Grosjean was closing on Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari when it suffered an explosive tyre blowout on the penultimate lap.
Even without that, he might have caught the German.
“Being here today is kind of special I think, it has the feel of a race win,” said the Frenchman, who has worked with a sports psychologist since the dark days of 2012 and fought back tears behind the helmet on his final lap.
Lotus had gone into the race with bailiffs waiting to impound their cars as a result of legal action against the team by former reserve driver Charles Pic.
“It’s been a very, very hard weekend for us,” said trackside operations director Alan Permane. “We’ve had lots of money troubles as people know.
“To be able to put that behind us and do the business on the track has been great.
“This is the worst season we’ve had financially,” he added. “We’ve scrimped and scraped for parts and to get the cars on the track is a massive effort each week. So to be able to stick it on the podium is unbelievable.”
The Briton recognized however that the cars might not be leaving Spa immediately.
“I have heard they (the cars) will be impounded but I’m sure it will be sorted out early next week and we can go to Monza and get on with things,” he said.
A man in a dark suit and carrying a briefcase, who confirmed only that he was Belgian and not working on behalf of the team, was standing outside the Lotus garages as mechanics packed up.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris