Monaco Grand Prix 2015: Jules Bianchi’s plight drives Romain Grosjean in pursuit of glory for France

Injured driver Jules Bianchi’s condition was described as ‘stagnant’ by his father this week

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It is 19 years since Olivier Panis became, here in Monte Carlo, the last French driver to win a grand prix. For Romain Grosjean, the only Frenchman on the grid, the weekend is further charged with emotion for reasons beyond pure patriotism.

A year ago compatriot Jules Bianchi’s aggressive drive to ninth place here earned the Marussia team the two World Championship points that were the lifeline to their survival as Manor-Marussia. When Grosjean crossed the line in seventh in China on 12 April – his first points since that day – he dedicated them to Bianchi, who remains in care in Nice following his accident in the Japanese GP at Suzuka on 5 October last year. Bianchi’s father, Philippe, admitted this week that his son’s situation is “stagnant”.

A family man himself – his second son, Simon, was born last Saturday – Grosjean at 29 is at the stage when even racing drivers start to see the broader perspective of life.

“It’s hard to explain how I felt in China, because Jules had never been a very close friend because we were both racing for France. He was pushing and he was always trying to be the best Frenchman in Formula One. It kind of meant that we’ve never been very close, but then when you’ve got terrible things that are happening, it changes things.

“Now I’ve learnt a lot. He liked red wine, he liked good food, and I’m passionate about food. We had a lot of common points. It’s just hard to realise that we were so busy racing each other, that you’ve got one view that was missing.”

Like Michael Schumacher’s situation, the humanity of the story transcends everything else.

“It becomes a human story. You care about the guy. You think what can happen, especially now that I’m a dad. I know his dad as well, so that kind of feeling is horrible. So I’ve got ‘Forza Jules’ on my helmet, and that’s why I wanted to dedicate the points in China because the last time I had scored points, I finished behind him on the track here last year.”

As long ago as Valencia in 2012, Grosjean demonstrated winning potential, before the period when he became the enfant terrible following the huge accident he triggered at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, which earned him a one-race ban.

A five-grid place penalty here for a gearbox change will almost certainly ruin his chances tomorrow regardless of how well he qualifies, and it may be a while before Lotus recapture the impetus that led to them winning with Kimi Raikkonen in Australia in 2013. But Grosjean knows he can do the job, given the right equipment. Pour la Gloire de France, certainly, but also for the fallen comrade he wishes he had known better.