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GP Week : Issue 58
>>F1 INSIGHT Next in line: Hekki Kovalainen, far left, is another GP2 frontrunner who has struggled in F1, while Lucas di Grassi, left, has just struggled to get an F1 chance at all. Romain Grosjean, above, is next in line at Renault, but can he buck the trend? was crowned champion, it was Heikki’s under par performances which were blamed for McLaren losing the constructors’ crown to Ferrari. If the rumours are true, Heikki is set to receive his second P45 in three seasons at the end of 2009. He is thought to be Williams-bound, as his 2005 GP2 rival Nico Rosberg moves in the opposite direction and into Kovalainen’s vacant McLaren seat. But what of the 2007 GP2 runner-up? Quite incredibly, he is still plugging away in GP2. And yet he is, out of all the current GP2 drivers, the one who probably deserves a shot at F1 the most. Lucas di Grassi has suffered at the hands of cruel timing and luck. In many ways, his misfortune has, at its core, the careers of the GP2 vicechampions who came before him, for all three had an association with the Renault F1 Team. All three were testers for the squad. And all three seem to have been burned in the process. When Kovalainen moved up to the F1 race seat at Renault in 2007, everybody expected di Grassi to get the nod as tester After all, he’d been part of the Renault Driver Development Scheme for years. And yet the job fell to Piquet, who had never been a part of the program. And when Piquet moved up to the race seat one year later, di Grassi was once again passed over for Franco-Swiss GP2 rival Romain Grosjean. And all this in spite of di Grassi’s very clear talent as a developer of a fast and reliable racing car. And so di Grassi asked if he could be excused his Renault responsibilities to test for Honda, which he did ... and which he did impressively. He was joined at the test, at the tail end of the 2008 season, by that year’s GP2 runner up and fellow Brazilian, Bruno Senna. Sadly, we all know what came next in the sorry tale of Honda. Senna’s eggs had been placed into the Honda basket, and both he and di Grassi were left once again to ponder their next moves. For Senna, sportscars beckoned. For di Grassi, it was to be another year of GP2. The nearly men of GP2 have all seemingly been cursed. Three of their careers, however, have all been inextricably interlinked, and it would be unfair for anyone to attempt to underplay the severe impact of the manner in which Renault, and in particular Flavio Briatore’s treatment of either Kovalainen, Piquet or di Grassi has affected their individual careers. McLaren personnel have often spoken about the way they had to “rebuild” Heikki after his year at Renault. The experience had taken a talented, optimistic and blisteringly fast driver and it had crushed him. Many of those who know him best now fear the same is true for Nelson. And the sad irony in all this is that the next man who seems destined to step into what, at the present time, must be seen as the career-suicide seat in Formula 1 is, once again, the man sitting in the runner’s up spot in GP2 – Grosjean. One hopes that the manner in which Kovalainen and Piquet’s stars have been dulled by the experience is not replicated for Grosjean. The general feeling, however, is that compared to either one of his predecessors, he is nowhere near as prepared, naturally talented nor, most worrying of all, mentally strong. 29