Let the Romain Grosjean silly season begin! After his pole and breakthrough IndyCar podium at Indianapolis last weekend, the demand for his services in 2022 is likely to go through the roof, especially as he has made it clear he’s looking into a full-time commitment to the series for next year.
There’s one team that simply can’t waste time in getting to the front of the queue for his services.
Andretti Autosport is one of the biggest squads in IndyCar, but for the last two seasons it has underdelivered. Whether that was Marco Andretti’s entry failing to make the top 23 in owners’ points last year and Zach Veach not doing much better, or the uber struggles of Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe in 2021, it’s lacking a spark, an edge.
In fact, in the battle between IndyCar’s ‘big three’ teams – Andretti, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske – Colton Herta is the only Andretti driver ahead of a Penske or Ganassi driver. He’s 10th, one place above Marcus Ericsson of Ganassi.
Across Ganassi’s three full-time cars in five races it has outscored fellow Honda-powered team Andretti’s four entries by 99 points! In a four car vs four car battle, Chevrolet spearhead Penske is 180 points clear of Andretti.
There’s been some bad luck and mechanical issues that skew those statistics, but none of the drivers in the Andretti team have been flawless and Hunter-Reay – the 2012 champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner – is 17th in the standings with Hinchcliffe 20th.
When Andretti ran five full-time cars this might have been less of an issue, but it’s slimmed down to four this year and the added focus should really have yielded better results.
As well as the aforementioned bad luck and technical problems, we are coming into the Indy 500 where the team was incredibly strong in qualifying last year – and with the event being double points, it has a chance to bounce back.
But given the last two disappointing seasons, it does feel that there’s scope for Andretti to have a proper reshuffle.
It may have the best shot at persuading Grosjean along for the ride, too.
Penske has renewed Will Power and Josef Newgarden beyond next year, and you really can’t see it binning off rookie sensation Scott McLaughlin after one season given the effort and resource it has put into getting him over from Australia.
That leaves Simon Pagenaud, who isn’t currently believed to be contracted for 2022. But ditching a past champion and Indy 500 winner, who has won races in six of his nine full seasons in IndyCar and finished out of the top eight in the championship only once in that time, to run two sophomores in Grosjean and McLaughlin would be a bold move.
Ganassi has found a future champion in Alex Palou, has a consistent driver with good backing in Ericsson, and has Jimmie Johnson signed through next year. You can’t see Scott Dixon retiring in the form of his life, either.
So across the big three, Andretti has the best and most likely opportunity to nab Grosjean.
Expanding to a fifth full-time car – or if it was to move on Hunter-Reay or Hinchcliffe – would open up a spot for Grosjean, and his fresh approach with his years of F1 experience may help give the misfiring giant the kick into gear it needs.
Andretti also has a recent track record of welcoming F1 stars. It ran Fernando Alonso’s sparkling Indy 500 debut in 2017, and Alexander Rossi found a home at the squad post-F1 where he too was immediately successful.
Make no mistake, though, it feels like persuading Grosjean away from Dale Coyne will be tough as he’s found a small, close-knit team that feels like a family. Coyne regularly loses drivers and engineers to bigger teams as part of the machine that is IndyCar, so I’m sure this speculation of Grosjean moving away won’t surprise Dale and his squad.
But any team wanting to pull Grosjean away had better be ready with very convincing sales pitches and expecting a fight from a team that has stepped up to meet Grosjean’s level in the early part of 2021.
You may think it’s an exaggeration to be this certain of Grosjean’s stock after three races. But eliminating the points scored by other drivers at Texas where Grosjean didn’t take part, he’d be sixth in the standings above all but two Penske cars, two Ganassi entries and Indianapolis road course winner Rinus VeeKay.
That’s in his first season, in a much, much smaller team than the big three. Short of some sort of spectacular and almost impossible downward spiral, he’s only going to get more competitive from a very high starting point.
It may be that, if Grosjean wants a shot at a full season, a championship and ovals, Andretti is one of the best places to be. It’s rarely out of contention at the 500 (and it would be a massive story for Grosjean and motorsport if he enters the big race and somehow works his way into a winning position) and it’s ace on the street courses where Coyne and Grosjean appeared to struggle at St Petersburg earlier this year.
Detroit’s street circuit, when Grosjean will return to the series after the Indy 500, may tell us more there as one race is hardly a fair judge of the Grosjean/Coyne package on the streets.
It’s very early days yet, but it seems Andretti and Grosjean could be a perfect match for mutual success. Whether he can be persuaded away from Coyne is a different matter altogether.
And who says another big player won’t throw its hat in the ring?
Tracking Grosjean during the silly season is going to be as enthralling as a maiden campaign in which he’s excited and thrilled already.