Grosjean promises no more first-lap crashes

 

Lotus' impetuous young driver Romain Grosjean yesterday acknowledged that he will be running on borrowed time if he gets involved in another first-lap collision with a rival at tomorrow's Korean Grand Prix.

Condemned in Suzuka last week by Red Bull's Mark Webber as "a first-lap nutcase" after he ran into the back of the Australian in the first corner, he has promised to clean up an act for which he has already received a one-race ban following a collision at the start of the Belgian GP.

"Since Singapore, I've been trying to be really cautious at the starts and it's been all the more frustrating to be involved in an incident in Japan," Grosjean said.

"When approaching the first corner, I was watching Sergio [Perez] on my left to make sure there was no contact with him. I didn't expect such a big speed difference between me and Mark braking into the corner, we collided and that was it.

"It was a stupid mistake. Mark came to see me after the race and was obviously not happy, but I apologised and we have to move on. I've sat down and looked at things again with the team; for sure, it's still an area we need to improve. We're clearly focusing on this area for the next races."

The Lotus principal, Eric Boullier, said: "In Suzuka, Romain made a small mistake by misjudging his pace relative to Mark, which was a bit higher. We have sat down and spoken about this. We understand what has to be done.

"I think in Singapore to an extent and in Suzuka he was almost trying to overcompensate by focusing on staying out of trouble, which in the last race had the opposite effect."

McLaren led the first practice session yesterday morning, but by the end of the day Red Bull had risen to the top two positions with an inevitability that was reminiscent of their dominance in 2011.

Where Lewis Hamilton had looked comfortable heading the times in the first session, he was struggling in the second as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber waged war between themselves over the fastest time. Eventually Vettel pipped Webber by 0.032sec.

Though rivals tried to put a brave face on a crushing defeat by the Milton Keynes team a week ago in Japan, it is becoming increasingly obvious that revisions to the rear suspension have given Vettel and Webber a potent machine that now has excellent traction out of slow corners to add to some peerless aerodynamic performance in the fast corners. The grandly named Korean International Circuit is a mixture of both, with some boring twiddly bits thrown in.

"The first session seemed to be fine, then in the second one we made some set-up changes and I wasn't able to get the time out of the option tyre," Hamilton said. "The first session was fantastic. I don't really know what happened in the second. The wind direction changed but it didn't seem to affect anyone else.

"My biggest problem was a lot of understeer, particularly at the end of the last section, which was where I was losing most of the time.

"We just have to be calm tonight and try to figure out where we want to go with the settings of the car. It definitely has some pace – we just need to extract it."

His team-mate, Jenson Button said he was concerned about Red Bull's recent upturn. "They've got that four-tenths again in practice. And I think they're going to be very, very difficult to beat in qualifying," he said.

"They seem to have that strength back. Our race pace today seemed to be competitive, but over one lap we're still lacking so it's an area we need to work on. We were surprised by their pace in Suzuka. All the other cars around us, I don't think they were any quicker, they just did a better job in the race and we made it difficult for ourselves by starting further back."

Vettel, who has closed to within four points of Fernando Alonso's lead in the World Championship after back-to-back victories in Singapore and Suzuka, was his usual relaxed self when things have been going right.

"All in all we can be quite happy, but I think it looks extremely tight," Vettel said. "I'm not happy with every run we had today, but I think the track was changing quite a lot this morning; it was better than we expected. This afternoon it was quite slippery to start with, but then I think it got a little bit better, so all in all the car felt all right and now we see what we can do for tomorrow. I think we have to improve ourselves to match the others."

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