Melbourne: Ever since pre-season testing there had been talk about a Lotus driver springing a surprise on his return to Formula One.

But when it happened in Melbourne on Saturday it was Romain Grosjean, and not Kimi Raikkonen, taking the bows.

The 26-year-old Frenchman upstaged not only the Finn but also multiple world champions Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso by qualifying third for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Unlike Raikkonen, Grosjean's exile from the pinnacle of motorsport was enforced when he was dropped after just seven races as a replacement driver for the then Renault team in the 2009 season.

"Never give up. That's the lesson," he said. "I'm very happy to be here, very proud as well to be here. A few people believed in me at the toughest time and today I think they were with me in the car.

"I'm proud to be part of the Lotus team and the atmosphere and the experience can be very good. We have been working pretty well during the winter, trying to do our best.

"It's not a dream, we did it. We can be proud of it and tomorrow we'll keep working to improve ourselves, trying to get the best result as possible during the race and then in the next races as well."

His success on Saturday was all the more remarkable as he had never driven on the Albert Park circuit before the two rain-disrupted practice sessions on Thursday.

"I do learn quickly but I think when we get everything at the factory I think it's even easier," he added. "My engineer did a fantastic job for me, he's trying to help me as much as he can and Formula One is tough."

Although Swiss born, Grosjean lives in Paris and races under a French licence so counts as part of the French rennaissance in Formula One this year.

France, one of the founding nations of motor sport, has been without a grand prix since 2008 and without a driver for the last two years.

With Grosjean at Lotus, Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso and youngster Charles Pic at Marussia, the country that gave the sport four-times champion Alain Prost now boast three.

Grosjean's grid position makes him best placed of the trio to score points on Sunday and he certainly has no intention of making qualifying the highlight of his second career.

"I hope we can keep going like this all season long and in the end it will be a nice story," he said.

(Agencies)