|© AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Romain Grosjean is desperate to win a Formula 1 race -- if only to keep the talk about 1996 quiet.
Olivier Panis is the last French driver to win a race, back in 1996 at the Monaco GP. This weekend, Grosjean will look to end that drought on the same track.
Grosjean has a best result of third this season, at the Bahrain GP last month, and his best last year was second in Canada.
After toning down his aggressive driving, the 27-year-old Frenchman feels he is getting closer to taking the chequered flag -- and to finally answering a personal plea from Panis.
"I remember once, last year, when he told me, 'Win the race, so I don't hear about 1996 anymore,'" Grosjean said. "That was a funny one. I said 'I'll try.'"
The barren streak is not quite at the level of men's French tennis -- Yannick Noah was the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open in 1983, the year Alain Prost finished second in the F1 championship -- but Grosjean admits it is dragging on.
"Yeah, it is, true, but I'm trying to (keep) it as short as possible," he said. "When I come on the race weekend for sure I'm thinking about the win. It's always difficult when you don't get it, but I don't see why I wouldn't be able to do it. We've had some good races, some good qualifying."
Grosjean qualified in fourth place last year in Monaco, but ended up retiring from the race. He will likely need a better performance in qualifying to stand any chance of winning on Sunday, given that in the past ten years only two drivers have won from outside of pole position.
"Monaco is a special Grand Prix, plus it's very close to France ... (so) it's like a home Grand Prix," he said. "The glamour and the fun of Monaco is quite nice. I like to come here, I like to race in the streets."
It was not so fun for Grosjean in Thursday's second practice run, however, when he misjudged the turn at Sainte Devote and the front of his Lotus ploughed into the crash barrier. Grosjean was unharmed and his car was lifted off the track by a crane. He was third fastest in the morning's first practice.
Last season, Grosjean earned a reputation last year for the wrong reasons.
His reckless driving from the grid angered fellow drivers, and he was given a one-race ban -- and a stern telling off from Lotus -- after being blamed for a pile up at the Belgian GP that sent Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez off the track at the first corner.
"I changed, certainly, in the race and the first lap," said Grosjean, who was speaking in English. "I grew up. I learnt from the mistakes. I tried not to do them again. For sure consistency was not my strength last year."
Grosjean is reluctant to talk too much about the ban, but accepts he should have been more cautious in other races.
"It was fortunate that nobody got hurt (in Spa)," he said. "Certainly one of my biggest mistakes was Japan at the start, when it was 100 percent (my fault) when I touched Mark (Webber)."
He took some of the criticism on board, notably from other drivers, and vowed to change.
"I was the first one to blame myself when it was going wrong, I was the first one to be punished," he said. "I've been working hard ... I just worked to (find) the solutions I could use in the conditions and the circumstances, and make the right choices."
Grosjean is in seventh place in the drivers' standings with 26 points after five races.
Compared to teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who is second overall and only four points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel, he has had a frustrating campaign, finishing only once on the podium and retiring early on with a mechanical failure in Barcelona two weeks ago.