- Australian Grand Prix - Lotus preview
'We have the odd little tweaklet planned for Australia'
What are your objectives on your return to Formula 1 with Lotus F1 Team?
I will try to do as well as I can and see where we end up. For the first race in Australia we want to have a good weekend without any major issues or mistakes. I don't know where we're going to be on the grid - nobody knows. If you look at the lap times from testing everybody is very close to each other. We don't know what everyone was doing with fuel load and that makes a massive difference. We'll have some idea after practice in Melbourne, then after qualifying everyone will know exactly where we are.
How do you feel with the team now you have been working with them in testing?
I feel very happy with the team. We're still learning things, but everything is going smoothly and there are no problems at all, so it's a good position to start the season.
Testing was interrupted, and you're making a return after two seasons away. How prepared do you feel?
You always wish you had more days to prepare but it's the situation we have and you just have to deal with it. In the first week in Jerez we had pretty good running and no major reliability issues with the car - which is a good thing. We only had one problem at the second test in Barcelona - and we fixed that and it won't be an issue again. Now we just have to get everything at a level where we are happy and make sure I press the right buttons at the right times. Maybe a few more days would have done no harm but I'm very confident that we'll get it right when the time comes.
Is there a lot to learn with a new team, new regulations and a new car?
It's still racing and more is the same as before than has changed. With the DRS and the KERS they are just buttons to press. In testing, sometimes you press it too late or too early but it's not going to change an awful lot. Pit stops are a bit shorter than before but nothing really different; you stop the car and then you go.
Do you have any idea where you hope to be on the grid in Australia?
We might be last and we might be first - let's see when we get there.
What do you think of your teammate Romain Grosjean?
He's a nice guy. I didn't know him before, we'd raced against each other a few times but never really spoken. He's a bit younger than me, but also for him it's a long time since he raced in Formula 1 so we'll see. I think he'll be good and I'm fine with working with him.
How much are you looking forward to racing in Formula 1 again?
Everybody wants to race. If you ask the test drivers: they want to race. Racing is the thing that people like. I don't think that anyone will tell you that testing is more fun than racing. Of course I think that racing has changed a bit since I was last in it with the overtaking, but it's not a completely different sport. It will be exciting and whoever gets the best out of the tyres will probably be in a strong position.
Do you have personal goals for the season?
No. We'll see where we are in the first races and go from there. We'll do the best we can and the best with the car.
You've had some good races in Australia - is it good to be starting the year there?
Australia is a nice place even though it's a long way from Europe. The circuit itself is not the most difficult on the calendar. It was good to score a point on my first time at Albert Park, and the podiums and race win in 2007 obviously made me happy. The circuit hasn't changed at all so I'm confident I know where it goes…
Do you think Albert Park could suit the E20?
You need a car with good traction and everything from testing says that the E20 has good traction so that will help us. Strong turn-in and stable braking help too, and those areas also feel good with the car so we are well placed. The track can be a bit slippery at the beginning of the weekend and the Melbourne weather is not always very warm; the Melbourne weather can definitely be a bit tricky. This will be the first race so I don't know how we'll compare to the other teams. My engineers have been running simulations and looking at the test data so we have an idea of how the car should work at Albert Park, but we won't know for sure until we get out on track. It's very difficult to say before we've been out on track, but I think and hope we'll be reasonably strong.
How do you feel on the brink of your first full season of F1?
I'm looking forward to Australia and I feel very comfortable with the team. It's been fantastic throughout testing and we're all working well together. Of course, we had a third less of pre-season testing than we expected - which was not quite the original plan! The small issue we had in the first Barcelona test can even be seen as a good experience. Everyone worked twice as hard to return to Barcelona the following week and show that we are strong for the season ahead, which I think we are.
Have you been to Albert Park before?
I've only been to Australia once before when I was third driver for the team in 2009. The country is fantastic. I love Melbourne. I hope the track will suit me - it certainly looks great. The atmosphere is very special and it was one of my favourite Grands Prix to experience even when I wasn't driving, so what it must be like to drive it I can't imagine.
All your testing took place in the dry and Melbourne has notoriously fickle weather. When was the last time you drove an F1 car in the wet?
Brazil 2009 in free practice three. It feels like a long time ago! I'm ready if the track is more slippery, and I'll try to make the best of it. I like racing in the wet, so maybe it will be a bit of an advantage for me.
The simulator at Enstone has not quite opened for business, so how have you been preparing for Albert Park - a track you've never driven before?
I've been watching a lot of in-car videos from the on-board camera! I've spent a lot of time with my engineers looking at the data from the track from last season. I'll be running as much as possible in the first free practice session to learn the circuit, get some mileage and build some knowledge of the track. For sure, I'm looking forward to having access to the simulator once it goes live very soon…
What do you think of Albert Park, especially with factors to consider such as its non-permanent nature and the likely track surface evolution?
The track is what it is - it will improve but that only helps you. You don't particularly feel it too much in the car, you just see it in better lap times. The grip level improves and better lap times come to you - and you soon get used to better lap times! What I saw from the onboard camera from previous years is the track looks good and it looks fun. I hope it will suit the E20.
What are your targets for the year?
My target is to give my best every time I'm in the car; to get the best from the car and to get the best from myself. I want to make the least amount of mistakes possible. I want to get points at every opportunity. I don't set myself a target of a particular position, I just want to do my best and do my job as well as I can so I can bring some good points to the team.
Do you have a particular race start routine?
I used to have a particular routine, but it's not something I go out of my way to follow now. It's something I do more from familiarity. I usually get into the car from the right side, but that's not to say I won't ever get in from the other side. I'll try to be relaxed, get myself in the right frame of mind then tell myself 'come-on, we're going to race now!' It's a fantastic experience to start a Grand Prix. I can't wait to go for it.
What's your emotion when you're sat on the grid after the formation lap?
You have to be really calm. When you're at your best, you're really calm but very attentive. You need to be ready to go as soon as the lights change. It's something which is tough to get exactly right; that balance of high concentration and high focus.
How have you found the reaction to your return to Formula 1?
I'm surprised that so much was made of it in France, but it makes me happy. The car looks good for the season ahead so that creates more attention. We're all very excited.
Has the amount of media attention surprised you?
In a way, yes, but I'd prefer to be in this position than having no attention and not being in Formula 1! It's good that people are paying attention to what we're doing - it's a good sign. I hope it continues.
Eric Boullier, team principal
How do you think the season ahead is looking?
It looks positive. At testing you never know what people are doing but from the Lotus F1 Team perspective our drivers were happy with the car's easiness to drive and overall performance. The E20 reacts well to driver input and engineer changes so the whole package is a decent basis for us to work from. Of course, we don't know where we are standing relative to the other teams. We certainly believe that this year the competition will be much closer and we hope we're at the right end of that competition.
The team has two new drivers which could be seen as something of a risk?
Continuity is certainly good sometimes but we also have to make some decisions. Our two drivers are fantastic. Kimi, is a World Champion. His return is good for Formula 1, good for the fans and fantastic for our team. His experience is definitely valuable and his commitment is better than ever. He is leading the team in a positive direction. With Romain we have a very talented driver who has already shown that he is embracing the opportunity he has. He's developing very fast and I think he will do a very good job this year too. We have a superb driver line-up.
How do you view the team's pre-season testing?
Our designers and the whole team did a very good job this year. Testing showed that the whole car is clearly a step up in terms of fit and finish, and it was reliable straight out of the box. We'll never recover the four days we lost at the first Barcelona test, but that is behind us. We completed great mileage in Jerez, and a decent mileage in the second Barcelona test. The E20 is reliable, and we made the best of what we could do with the eight days before heading to Melbourne.
What are the goals and objectives for the team in 2012?
We want to be seen and performing as one of the top teams in this highly competitive sport. For me this year will be monitored by the progress we make during the course of the season. That will be much more encouraging than any expectation of results or particular figures. If we can finish higher in the rankings I will be very happy and that would be the best reward for our sponsors and for our team. That is clearly a target. We want to do better, we want to be better, we want to score more podiums and if we have a chance to win any races we'll be more than happy. The way we progress over the course of the season is the main goal.
Were you encouraged by the way the team reacted so quickly and positively to the chassis problem?
It was an unexpected issue and we would have been pleased to avoid this kind of drama, however it's clear that the way the team handled this problem showed us in a very good light. Everyone pulled together and focused on the solution rather than what went wrong. We and the right approach to solve the problem and everything was turned around very quickly and to the same high quality we see in the rest of the E20. We leave this issue behind us now and that should be it for surprises.
2012 is the building block for 2013 and beyond - what's the longer term plan?
We have an efficient and strong organisation. We now want to reinforce our strengths and ensure that we are capable to use the best of our resources to develop more concepts and a more efficient car with every subsequent year. Every year if you set your targets and objectives higher you will continue to improve. The team has been building its assets well - bolstering the CFD facility, upgrading to a 60% wind tunnel and with a simulator due to come online very soon… We have a great selection of assets to assist us in our goals and everything required to be a top team. Investment is the key and it's a constant in our organisation. By the end of this year we will have further new projects to further our objectives. These are the next steps to enable us to be even stronger.
How do you feel personally on the brink of the start of the 2012 season?
After a difficult 2011 season - my second year in Formula 1 - I certainly feel much more positive and encouraged by everything I see in the team. We are headed in the correct direction. Last year was a tough experience from which everyone involved learnt a lot. Let's get racing.
James Allison, technical director
What were the main challenges of the 2012 regulations?
By far the most significant is the fact that we are no longer allowed the exhaust blown diffusers. That single feature really dominated last season on everybody's car, and it was felt by the governing body and by the Teams that this avenue of development needed to be reined in. The 2012 rules still offer the opportunity to gain a residual downforce effect from the exhaust, but it is really very small in comparison to what we had in 2011. This means that the big challenge for 2012 was to re-invent the layout of the car without the exhaust blown effect which was so central to the 2011 designs.
How has it been working with Kimi Räikkönen?
I have to say he's been an absolute pleasure to work with in testing. He was able to bang in a race distance from the first day he drove with us with absolutely no sign of physical exertion. It was immediately clear that he has returned to the sport very fit and extremely enthusiastic to succeed. He's a real pleasure for his engineers to work with, giving very clear feedback in a civilised manner.
How has Romain stepped up to the challenge?
Romain is a young, fresh-faced talent. He showed in Jerez that he is capable of setting very respectable lap times. He clearly took on board all the feedback we gave him from that first test and applied everything when we were next out in Barcelona. It was a very pleasant surprise to have a driver so receptive to input and one who is able to react and apply the lessons so quickly and comprehensively.
Regarding the front suspension chassis mounting, how big a setback was it?
It was a proper setback; we lost four days of testing. The good thing is that our car was very reliable in the first test so the base of the car was already strong. This meant we didn't really have great doubts about whether we could run lots of kilometres once the specific failure of the chassis was addressed. However, it was lost set-up time, a lost opportunity for our drivers to get more kilometres under their belts and lost opportunities for us to learn more about this year's tyres. All of these were extremely unwelcome, but it was not a mortal blow.
How quickly were you able to solve the issue?
The diagnosis was very rapid. We had a redesign to solve the failure by the end of the day. The challenge then became managing the implementation of the repair sufficiently quickly to be ready for the second Barcelona test.
All the media focus was on the chassis issue, but have there been any other areas of concern in the testing of the E20?
We saw some minor water leaks in Jerez but we had a quick and easy fix for that - so it's all better now. We had an issue with one particular power steering rack at the second Barcelona test, but other than that the car has been very good out of the box.
What are your thoughts on the 2012 tyres from Pirelli?
They seem to work well with the E20. We've been able to achieve reasonable lap times and seen good warm-up. The degradation looks like it will make for the kind of races which the public will enjoy; the tyres don't destroy themselves so quickly that the race would become a meaningless blur of pit stops, but there is sufficient difference between the performance of the different compounds to make it an interesting racing spectacle.
Will the car in Australia be exactly as it was at the end of the Barcelona test?
We have the odd little tweaklet planned for Australia if you look closely.
A lot has been noted about the aesthetics of the stepped noses. What are your thoughts?
I'd agree it's not a thing of great beauty, but you get used to it.
In terms of the potential of the E20, do you think you can challenge the top four?
That is our target and we believe we have a good shout at being able to do this. However, the precise order of the grid is notoriously hard to read from winter testing.