• Bahrain Grand Prix - Lotus preview

'There are a couple of new bits coming for the car'

ESPNF1 Staff
April 17, 2012

Lotus previews the Bahrain Grand Prix

Lotus failed to get its updates to work in China © Sutton Images

Kimi Räikkönen

The Chinese Grand Prix was full of action; how was it from your position?
It was good racing but we ran out of tyre performance during the final stint. I felt comfortable in the car and I could push well, but we lost out in the end. I was not able to get past Felipe (Massa) in the middle part of the race, and I wasn't able to keep Sebastian (Vettel) behind me, but there is still good speed in the car.

What happened when Sebastian got past you?
I had been keeping him behind me, but finally my tyres were too far gone for me to keep him there. I went wide and then I was on the marbles. I had very little traction on the loose stuff and because it was so close a lot of cars went past me. It was then too late to make another stop so it was frustrating. It was the strategy we chose, and I wouldn't have been fighting for second if we'd gone for a three stop. Maybe we should have run a longer second stint, as that worked for Romain. We learnt a lot about the tyres.

Are you frustrated the strategy chosen didn't work?
It looked the best one for us and it worked for Romain. If we had the same information again, we'd probably try the same approach. It didn't work, but you don't know these things unless you try them. We will now know better for next time. We were pretty close to finishing on the podium. We didn't. That's racing.

You were racing wheel-to-wheel at times during the race. How was that?
It is what I missed when I was rallying, and it's good to be racing against other cars like that. It was very close at times, but it's called racing so that's what you do. I thought it must have looked good on television for anyone watching. I look forward to racing more like that this season.

The team wasn't able to maximise the latest upgrade package at Shanghai - how frustrating was that for you as a driver?
We had a lot of parts but it was wet on Friday morning and very cold in the afternoon. We went back to most of the old spec for Saturday as we knew how it worked. Qualifying was okay, but there was a bigger gap to pole which wasn't what we wanted. We didn't make the car faster which some others did with theirs. The E20 still feels good to drive, but we just need to get a little bit more speed. Hopefully we will find it in Bahrain.

What are your thoughts of the Bahrain International Circuit?
I don't think it will present any particular problems for us. It's likely to be quite hot and our car didn't like the cold so much when we were in China so maybe the heat will suit us better. The track has a mixture of corners and it's quite fun to race on. There are some opportunities to overtake so let's see what happens.

It's another circuit where you have finished on the podium…
I have had a second and three third places in Bahrain which is okay. It is good to race there. We won't know how strong the car will be until we get there. Maybe we will get the upgrades on the car to work properly and we will be able to go faster than in China. Let's see.

How have you enjoyed the first three races?
It's not that different to what it was like before. I don't like the travel so much as the first races are so far away from home, but soon we will be racing in Europe. When you're at the track and in the car you know what you have to do, so it doesn't matter so much about the other stuff. When I'm in the car it feels good, and we're all working to get faster.

Do you think the team is capable of a strong result in Bahrain?
A podium should be possible and I think it has been at all the races we've been at so far. We don't know exactly how good the car will be until we get there, but we don't expect any problems.

Romain Grosjean

How did it feel to score your first points in Formula 1 last weekend?
I'm very pleased for myself, for the team, for all the hard work we've done. We deserved finally a good result. We did an amazing job to recover from our free practice pace, which was not that good, but at the end of the story we got back where we should be.

As Kimi showed, it was a strategy which was very marginal on tyres, how was that from behind the wheel?
I knew it was going to be tight for tyres and did my best to save them. It's always difficult when you are on a risky strategy to the cars coming from behind you. The McLarens and Red Bulls were attacking with new tyres so I wasn't sure what to expect.

How nervous were you at the start of the race?
My start was very good, but then Fernando (Alonso) went on the right side and I was blocked behind him. I couldn't do much. Then unfortunately Felipe (Massa) came from the outside, a good move from him, and got in front of me. He held me off for all the first stint, which was not very good for me or my race, but then the second stint was amazing.

What about the rest of the race?
The pace was really good. I started the third stint the same and then we caught back to Felipe (Massa) again. Kimi was behind Sebastian (Vettel) and myself and then Jenson (Button) joined. It was very tight between us and difficult to overtake. And then the guys with new tyres came in the middle. You can always say that without Felipe (Massa) holding us maybe it would have been a different story, but anyway we knew we had to take care of the tyres. The car felt very good today and it gives me a lot of confidence for Bahrain.

You seemed to be in traffic a lot of the time in Shanghai?
It's really frustrating not to be able to overtake! I think overtaking was quite tough on Sunday, even with the very long straight. It was really difficult for everybody. I was blocked behind Kamui (Kobayashi) and I think my pace was much better than what I was doing, but this is part of the race. You know sometimes you will have some traffic and sometimes be in free air. The strategy guys do their best to give you some free air and some laps to do by your own.

Overall, how do you assess your first points finishing performance in Formula 1?
I think we had more or less everything right with just some small mistakes. Next time is going to be even better.

You've experienced Bahrain before in the 2008 GP2 Asia series; does it bring back good memories?
Definitely. I raced there with the ART Grand Prix team and we took pole position, fastest lap and the win - it's always nice to get a full house! I've also got quite a lot of experience there from 2010 when I was a test driver for Pirelli, so hopefully this will help me get up to speed quickly in the E20.

The layout of the circuit has been altered since you last drove there, so there will surely be some learning still to do…
It's true that the configuration has changed, but the 2010 layout was only used for that season, and will return to its previous format for this year. I guess I'm quite lucky really, as I've driven the track in both forms so there will be no problem at all there.

Do you think you will enjoy racing a Formula 1 car at the Bahrain International Circuit?
Whether you enjoy driving at a track depends on the car. With a good car you enjoy the track, with a bad car you don't! Bahrain is a good track. It has some big braking which I quite like, some interesting changes of direction like the double-left in the middle of the racetrack… I think the E20 will be nice there. The balance we have is pretty good and I'm sure we can achieve something strong.

What are you hoping for at the next race?
I want to be able to put a proper qualifying and proper race all together. I think the car will be good there. The weather should stay the same throughout the weekend - hopefully! Let's see what we can do.

Eric Boullier expects more in Bahrain © Sutton Images

Eric Boullier, team principal

Eric, what is your view on the Chinese GP?
It was a tough weekend for us. It started right from the free practice sessions, when our new aerodynamic package did not perform 100% as expected. Because the track time is always very limited during a Grand Prix weekend and because we did not know if the situation was the result of the low temperatures or a problem with the package itself, we took the decision to go for a compromise between the new parts and our older configuration after Friday. We then probably lost performance in comparison to our rivals. We made it to Q3 without any problem, but then the race did not develop as expected. Kimi put on a strong performance, but our strategy did not allow him to get onto the podium. We still believe that a two stop plan was good for us but in retrospect, we stopped him slightly too early after his second stint. That was a real shame. Romain on the other hand has been able to put his bad luck behind him. He finished sixth and could have been even higher. Also, his fight against Pastor Maldonado was great to watch, although maybe a bit stressful from the pitwall!

What's your mood, then, ahead of Bahrain?
I spoke about frustration before China and I think this is what I feel the most at the moment. We've only been scoring with one car in the first three races. When you look at the classification in Shanghai, McLaren, Red Bull, Sauber and Williams all had both their drivers in the top ten. This is really what we should be aiming for in Bahrain. I believe the Constructors' Championship classification does not reflect our true level of performance. Ten laps before the end of the race in China, we were still 2nd and 6th, and looking quite strong. We need to keep this level of performance until the chequered flag.

Any positives?
Of course, there are some. Kimi's position on the grid was his best so far, and there are more developments to be added to the car soon. Also, despite some tricky conditions and a track that was not supposed to suit the E20, we managed to fight at the top once again. We were well beaten by Mercedes in China and McLaren have a little bit on us still, but we have a car that can compete for podiums. We just have to make sure that we don't miss any opportunities.

Kimi and Romain have both lost places during pitstops since the beginning of the season. Is it a concern?
We know where the problem is coming from. Our guys have little to do with it. In order to improve our pitstops, we'll have to re-design and manufacture some parts of our equipment. This won't be ready for Bahrain but we will make a step forward in Barcelona for sure.

The expectations for Bahain are clear, then…
Yes. I would say these expectations are a copy and paste from China. Our aim will be to have a trouble-free weekend and show what we can do with the E20. This is the minimum, and unlike what happened at each of the first three races, there should not be any rain to make our life difficult in Bahrain! Having both cars in the top ten would be a nice improvement. Our potential is plain to see. I don't like being in 6th position in the Constructors' Championship, but we should not remain there for too long!

James Allison, technical director

What are your thoughts after the Chinese Grand Prix?
I'm sure people are going to get bored of us saying 'so near, yet so far' or 'if only' or 'it's going to come good'. But nevertheless this weekend just reinforces the feeling we've had in the first two races, that there is a lot of goodness that will come this season with this car. We are going to start scoring points in a decent way very soon. We were very, very close to it in China and although we didn't quite make it stick, we chose the right strategy for the day and we very nearly turned it into an excellent result. The only thing that undid us I think was probably not going quite long enough in the second stint with Kimi, which left him with just a little bit too much to do at the end. There are good positives to take, though. Both cars were well balanced throughout the race. Both drivers were competitive. We were well beaten by Mercedes. But so was everyone else.

Why weren't you able to get a handle on the upgrade package taken to China?
We weren't able to unlock the pace we thought we brought with the upgrades and that was frustrating. It was very awkward weekend and not just for us. We were dealing with a tyre that was just popping in and out of the edge of its operating window from a temperature point of view. That made it ever-so-hard to make coherent decisions about whether what you had done to the car was a good thing or a bad thing. That was confusing for us, but we pulled everything reasonably back together. The car was very well balanced in the race. You could see from Romain's results that it ran its tyres very nicely. You could also see from Kimi's first stint, where he was right on Button's bumper for the whole of that stint, that our wear and degradation on the option was strong. We very nearly made a two-stop race stick for a strong result.

Should Bahrain present a better opportunity to unlock the pace?
We go to Bahrain knowing that we're going to have more consistent temperatures with the tyres! That will allow us to assess the upgrade package with a more level set of conditions. We'll get as much of it on as we can prove is good. There are a couple of new bits coming for the car, such as a new pushrod. We will benefit from more time with the bits we took to China but ultimately didn't use for the race.

What challenges does the Bahrain track present for the E20?
We're racing back on the original configuration as last used in 2009. It'll be the first proper test of our braking systems for the year. We don't anticipate any problems, but it will be on where we need to pay a little bit more attention to wear and temperature. It's also a circuit where we need some good traction - turn 1, turn 10 especially as it's very slow speed. We have identified this as an area where the E20 needs some work so it will be interesting to see how we perform.

How do the team prepare for a track with high braking demands?
We do track comparisons, so from knowing the demands on Jerez for example we can calculate how the brakes should work at Bahrain. We do work on a brake dyno, where we simulate the loads which the brakes will experience at a circuit and this helps evaluate wear and cooling. We don't think there will be any dramas, of course we could get a surprise. Last time we race in Bahrain, the track was longer - meaning fewer laps - so there were less occurrences of braking into the heavy braking zones, and more time between them.

After the recent protest decision is the team developing a 'double-DRS'?
We are at the point of making estimates of how big the gain might be and eyeballing up the difficulty in actually realising that gain. It's anyone's guess how powerful any existing system is, but that's not the issue; it's how powerful we think we can make any system which we can now develop now we know how the rules can be interpreted. There are systems like Mercedes has, but the interpretation allows other permutations too. So it could be an interesting time for developments in this area.