Romain Grosjean said his Haas car had the pace to be a top-10 contender in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix before he binned it in Q1.
The Frenchman caused a late-session red flag that robbed several drivers of the opportunity to put in their final quick lap, not least of all himself in a car he claims had much more pace than his P15 qualification suggested.
Grosjean’s car snapped suddenly out of his control at turn four on his second Q1 qualifying lap. He speared rapidly into the barriers, ripping the front wheels from the chassis and creating a long night of repairs for his mechanics.
“I lost it in three. I tried to keep it on track into four but couldn’t, and I just went on the grass and lost it,” he said.
“The car felt really nice on the first run. I came back to the garage, we added a tiny bit of front wing and went again, and turn one already I had a big snap. I don’t really know where it came from.
“Then I kept going and I went into three, and by the time I went into three I just lost the rear.
“I was then trying to recover, but it was too late.”
The crash registered at 15G, though Grosjean said this had more to do with the old-school nature of the circuit rather than the violence of the crash.
“It’s a track where you’re at very, very high speed,” he said. “At every other track you put the car back — okay, your lap is dead, but you’re on the track.
“But here if you lose it, it’s quite narrow. It’s nice to drive, and if you do a mistake, you pay for it.
“There isn’t much room in sector one, which makes it sexy and nice, but when you lose it you know you’re going to be in the wall very quickly.”
Grosjean insisted that the crash defied explanation because such a small change in aerodynamics shouldn’t have caused such a dramatic decline in drivability.
“Honestly it’s not crystal clear,” he mused. “Yes, I pushed a bit more, but we’re talking little compared to the handling difference.
“Honestly, the car had the pace to be in the top 10 today. I’ve got no explanation for what’s the difference between the first run and the second run when on the car we added 0.1 per cent of aero balance.”
Drivers were warned that some oil had been dropped on the circuit before qualifying and that track marshals had spread concrete dust on the affected areas, and Grosjean suggested this could be one of many possible explanations.
“We just need to look at everything,” he said. “On the first lap you could see it because there was a white [concrete] mark, but by the time you got onto the second lap there was no more white mark, so you don’t know where it is.
“But I doubt that this is it, because my line looks very much similar.”
Indeed the driver believes the loss of stability is a problem innate to his car, which is developing a history of inconsistency.
Ordinarily Grosjean’s principal problem is the brakes, but the Haas team has seesawed its way through the season, registering promising performances between slow non-score finishes with little reason or rhyme as far as circuit profile goes.
“We are like that recently, and we’re trying to evaluate everything,” he said. “It was the case with Malaysia in the race, where we did a small change — it went in a good direction, so I’m not complaining — but here it just felt like we added a per cent or a per cent and a half of aero balance when we needed 0.1.
After penalties — and assuming Grosjean will receive none of his own should any of the damage to his car prove more serious — Romain will start from P16, but the Frenchman is consigned to a difficult race in what could have been a successful grand prix.
“We’ll do our best. I had the pace today to do well, so I’m hoping that we do a great start, great first lap and from there maybe try a slightly different strategy to get the best out of it.”