After leading for much of Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean admitted he was starting to think about his maiden Formula One victory.
Grosjean was bidding to become the first French driver to win a Grand Prix since Olivier Panis at Monaco in 1996. He appeared to be on his way until he was passed by Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel on the 41st lap of Sunday’s race at Suzuka.
Vettel won the race for his fourth win in the past five races in Japan and his ninth win of the season. Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber then passed Grosjean on the penultimate lap to leave the Lotus driver with a third-place finish.
Grosjean, who started on the second row, grabbed the lead at the first turn and held it until the 29th lap when he went into the pits for the second time to change tires. Vettel took the lead and waited for his final pit stop on lap 37.
With fresh hard tires, Vettel blasted past Grosjean on lap 41 to take the lead for good.
“I thought today was going to be the day that my first victory was coming,” Grosjean said. “We were quick on the medium tires, but unfortunately the car was less good on the hards.”
Grosjean’s strong showing drew praise from Vettel.
“I thought it was a great day for Romain, he drove a fantastic race,” Vettel said. “Last year Romain did some mistakes but the most important thing is that we learn from these mistakes. (Romain) learned a lot of things and gradually he is improving so big respect for that.”
Webber, who had several run-ins with Grosjean last year, agreed with Vettel.
“I think Romain has a different mental approach to the job this year,” Webber said. “He has driven strong races and is putting together a good whole weekend, which is the sign of a driver who is getting confident.”