RO­MAIN GROS­JEAN

The an­cient Chi­nese philoso­pher Con­fu­cius was fa­mous for his sage writ­ings on hu­man virtues. So what will Ro­main Gros­jean learn from his visit to a Con­fu­cian tem­ple in Shang­hai?

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS MEDLAND PIC­TURES : STEVEN TEE IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS SHUTTERSTOCK

He says he’s at the peak of his ca­reer and just wait­ing for his chance to fi­nally prove him­self

“What you do not wish for your­self, do not do to oth­ers.”

Con­fu­cian wis­dom is mostly ex­pressed in apho­risms. Many say­ings at­trib­uted to the man him­self were com­mit­ted to pa­per only af­ter his death. Thus one of the civilised world’s great hu­man­ists hov­ers some­where out of reach – there and yet not there. So we could be head­ing for a cul­ture clash to­day as we es­cort a driver well known for speak­ing his mind, plainly and with­out an f-bomb lter, to a tem­ple de­voted to the pres­ence of this great thinker and moral­ist.

The Con­fu­cian tem­ple in Jiad­ing is in it­self an un­usual sight, a small oa­sis of tran­quil­ity and tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture jux­ta­posed with chaotic hu­man trafc and new-build con­crete in what, up un­til a few years ago, was the mid­dle of nowhere. That was be­fore the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit was built just up the road, fol­lowed by a crash­ing tidal wave of con­struc­tion as the city it­self en­veloped the neigh­bour­hood.

In spite of the pol­lu­tion, Ro­main is en­thu­si­as­tic at this op­por­tu­nity to break from the usual Chi­nese Grand Prix grind. He takes in his sur­round­ings, snap­ping seles and even break­ing into a jog for an­other photo op­por­tu­nity. Pass­ing a statue of Con­fu­cius read­ing to a group of stu­dents, Ro­main hails the im­mo­bile gure chum­mily – “Hello, friend!” – and stops for a pic­ture. When F1 Rac­ing en­quires what wis­dom the statue might have im­parted to him, he smiles: “We’ve got a joke in French, but it’s maybe a bit too early for it!” “Go on…”

“‘Who­ever has an itchy bum in the evening has got a smelly nger in the morn­ing!’ We used to say Con­fu­cius said that!”

We’re pre­pared to bet that the teacher’s Four Books and Five Clas­sics (the lat­ter of which in­cludes the sem­i­nal I Ching – The Book of Changes), don’t fea­ture this phrase.

Per­haps his en­er­getic mood is down to the en­cour­ag­ing start Haas have made to their sec­ond sea­son in F1; our out­ing comes ten days af­ter Gros­jean’s out­stand­ing – if ul­ti­mately un­re­warded – per­for­mance in Aus­tralia. But he has also been cheered by a short trip back to Geneva to see his wife and two chil­dren, adding to his good spir­its.

Still, if we may be per­mit­ted to ex­press some­thing ap­proach­ing a Con­fu­cian truism, tal­ent is no guar­an­tee of suc­cess in F1. The com­bi­na­tion of the right car, the right team and the right time is es­sen­tial for a driver to reach the top and be­come cham­pion. Fer­nando Alonso’s ca­reer, in which those el­e­ments have ar­rived and de­parted asyn­chronously, is a prime ex­am­ple.

A tem­ple built in 1219, and tak­ing as long to con­struct as Ro­main has been alive, puts the topic of age into per­spec­tive as we broach the sub­ject of what is likely to be a cru­cial year for the 31-year-old.

“I think I’ve been ready to get a big seat – even to get the chance – for a few years,” Gros­jean in­sists. “I’m 31, which is kind of old com­pared to the guys in their 20s we’ve got now, but I don’t feel tired; I don’t think I’ve done ev­ery­thing I want to do. There will be chances, I think, at the end of the year, but all I can do is the best job I can for the team.”

Walk­ing to the nearby Fahua Pagoda, we must leave the tran­quil­lity of the tem­ple and cross a busy main road, dodg­ing silent scoot­ers and im­pa­tient taxi driv­ers. This is per­haps not the best spot in which to med­i­tate upon virtue ethics, but in spite of Ro­main’s ear­lier diver­sion into vul­gar­ity, there is per­haps some ev­i­dence of the Con­fu­cian spirit seep­ing through. Of the core Con­fu­cian teach­ings, the no­tion of Ren – mean­ing hu­mane­ness or benev­o­lence – is viewed as the source of all virtues. “One should see noth­ing im­proper, hear noth­ing im­proper, say noth­ing im­proper, do noth­ing im­proper,” Con­fu­cius is re­ported to have in­structed an acolyte.

“Po­lite­ness!” Ro­main calls out as he ob­serves F1 Rac­ing’s pho­tog­ra­pher shoo a lo­cal res­i­dent out of shot in front of the or­nate pagoda anked by a murky wa­ter­way.

The Con­fu­cian prin­ci­ple of Li in­structs stu­dents to be proac­tive and pos­i­tive, and Gros­jean cer­tainly fol­lowed such a path in join­ing Haas ahead of the 2016 sea­son. In­stead of wait­ing to see if Re­nault re­turned to take over what seemed to be his spir­i­tual home at En­stone, he chose to take his ex­pe­ri­ence to a new team to give him­self a bet­ter shot at a big seat in the fu­ture.

Fer­rari are the clear tar­get in this long game, since Kimi Räikkö­nen, as last year, is on a one-year deal. But Gros­jean ac­tu­ally came clos­est to join­ing the Sil­ver Ar­rows, fol­low­ing Nico Ros­berg’s re­tire­ment. And since Valt­teri Bot­tas is also on a short-term con­tract, the op­por­tu­nity may come again. Don’t be fooled by his ra­dio out­bursts and emo­tional char­ac­ter; pa­tience is a virtue Gros­jean pos­sesses in abun­dance.

“We may have spo­ken to Mercedes,” he says with a grin. “I don’t have Toto’s num­ber but my man­ager lives in Vi­enna. There were a few names on the ta­ble and a few of them made sense. I be­lieve I was one of the ones mak­ing sense, let’s put it that way.

“My man­ager con­tacted them. There were a few names that would have made sense, Valt­teri was one of them. I think Nico Hülken­berg was an­other name. If you look at driv­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence I think I was one of them as well. Things hap­pen or don’t hap­pen for some rea­son and, ac­tu­ally, I think I’m good where I am.”

His ini­tial pride in stat­ing he held talks with Merc is clearly tem­pered with a tinge of re­gret that the move didn’t hap­pen, but Gros­jean knows he has a car with which he can show fur­ther progress this sea­son.

“Maybe other op­por­tu­ni­ties are com­ing in the near fu­ture. Of course, be­ing in a Mercedes is some­thing quite spe­cial and if you can make it hap­pen along­side Lewis and get a good year then won­der­ful. But if it doesn’t hap­pen, then it can be risky. You will tell me F1 is risky any­way, so it’s not a fac­tor! But I’m look­ing for the pos­i­tives in it.

“The pos­i­tives are that my name has been on the ta­ble at one point, which shows that the world cham­pion team re­spects what I’m do­ing. I guess I’ve proved in the past I could win the cham­pi­onship with a good car.

“It was great that my name was there, but it’s good that I am with Haas for a sec­ond year; I want to make the team stronger. I don’t feel as if I’ve done enough to move some­where else right now, so I’m pretty pleased that I’m here and we can do more.”

A pos­i­tive out­look sums up Gros­jean’s ap­proach. While the Haas team polo shirt he wears is stan­dard at­tire within the cir­cuit connes, it’s no­tice­able that he’s wear­ing it now, with a cer­tain pride, while wan­der­ing the nar­row streets around the Pagoda.

Amid the bus­tle, the in­quis­i­tive Ro­main stops at one stage to in­spect a stall sell­ing fried chicken. What’s un­usual here is the pres­ence of heads and feet along­side the ar­ray of wings. De­spite F1 Rac­ing’s of­fer to pur­chase some, he po­litely de­clines.

“I THINK I’VE BEEN READY TO GET A BIG SEAT – EVEN TO GET THE CHANCE – FOR A FEW YEARS. I’M 31, WHICH IS KIND OF OLD COM­PARED TO THE GUYS IN THEIR 20S WE’VE GOT NOW, BUT I DON’T FEEL TIRED; I DON’T THINK I’VE DONE EV­ERY­THING I WANT TO DO”

“THE DRIVER MAR­KET AT THE END OF THE YEAR IS GO­ING TO BE PRETTY OPEN. NEXT YEAR COULD BE A CHANCE, BUT THINGS THAT MUST HAP­PEN, WILL HAP­PEN. IF THEY DON’T THERE’S A REA­SON. HOPE­FULLY ONE DAY WE GET A NICE PHONE CALL!”

He might not quite have the stom­ach for the street food, but Gros­jean is up for a ght this sea­son, work­ing with a sports psy­chol­o­gist to max­imise his po­ten­tial.

“It’s an im­por­tant year. And the driver mar­ket at the end of the year is go­ing to be pretty open. Next year could be a chance, but things that must hap­pen will hap­pen. If they don’t there’s a rea­son, and I’m try­ing to im­prove in a lot of ar­eas, to keep learn­ing about F1, to keep de­liv­er­ing, and hope­fully one day we get a nice phone call!”

This philo­soph­i­cal ap­proach is pay­ing off. He’s mel­lowed a lot on the track since his crash-strewn re­turn with Lo­tus in 2012, co­in­cid­ing with the growth of his family.

“I think I’m liv­ing the best time of my life and I don’t think I’m yet at the peak of ev­ery­thing I can do. So it’s ac­tu­ally very pos­i­tive be­cause I look to the fu­ture, and I don’t think I’m 31 and one of the old guys. I’m 31 but I’m get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter.

“I don’t have to ask my­self the ques­tions I was ask­ing ini­tially. You still won­der at win­ter test­ing: ‘Am I still good? Did I lose it or not?’ Then you get to the rst qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion of the year, take on that glad­i­a­tor men­tal­ity, go for it and nd things are work­ing! As long as I can tell my­self I am the best, and I want to be the best – and I think I can be the best – then ne, I’ll keep on go­ing and en­joy it. The day I start to not en­joy it, I’ll stop be­cause it’s too much ded­i­ca­tion for not hav­ing that ex­tra plea­sure.

“Just go­ing away from the kids and so on, it’s hard for them. I dropped my son off at school on Tues­day morn­ing and he knew I was leav­ing and he wouldn’t let me go; he was sad. But on the other hand, he knows that when I come back I’m happy be­cause I’m do­ing what I love. So as long as I’m en­joy­ing it as much as I do to­day, I can have fun driv­ing the car. Hope­fully I can ght for some wins and that’s what I want. I want to win more than any­thing else, but we’re not in a sport like ten­nis or run­ning where if you’ve got the best legs then you win it.

“You have to start with a wooden rac­quet some­times – or some­times the court is not the same size for ev­ery­one!”

That’s an apho­rism wor­thy of Con­fu­cius him­self. As Ro­main invites us to squeeze into his car for the short ride back to his ho­tel, we make a note to look up whether rac­quet sports ex­isted in the fth cen­tury BC…

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