(Lotus F1 Team)
The Lotus F1 Team head to the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas next weekend hoping to score their first points since the Spanish Grand Prix in May. It has been an extremely tough season for the Enstone based outfit as they have scored just eight points so far this season.
The team head into the final three Grand Prix of the season and indeed the Winter with great confidence however as it was announced on the eve of the Russian Grand Prix last time out that they will have Mercedes power units in the back of the E23. In a Q&A with the team Romain Grosjean was asked:
Is it true that you will ride to Austin on your Harley Davidson motorcycle?
No. I do have a Harley and I will be riding one in Austin before the Grand Prix, but riding a Harley all the way to Austin is not part of my training programme. Though it does sound like fun! At home I have a custom Harley which is one of my favourite vehicles. They’re obviously an iconic US machine so it’s great to be able to ride one in its home country which is what IÕll be doing ahead of the Grand Prix. Maybe all the drivers should ride one for the drivers parade!
What do you think of the Circuit of the Americas?
It looks great and the first time I walked around it in 2012 I thought wow! The gradient up to turn one is really something and it makes for a fun first corner when you’re in the car. It’s a really well presented facility with an interesting circuit layout.
What particular challenges does the Circuit of the Americas present?
It’s quite a balanced circuit in that you don’t need one particular thing over another for the car to perform well. In the first year the challenge was finding the level of grip we want and we did see the same to a certain extent last year too. This year, we should be helped a bit by the race being a couple of weeks earlier, but we’re always wanting more grip!
What do you think of America?
The only times I have visited the US are for the Grands Prix. It’s such a big place which I would love to explore more. Austin is a great city to visit and my crew have told me all about the great bars and live music on offer!
There’s been some recent positive news from the team for 2015?
This is something we’ve known about internally for quite some time and I know the engineering department are very excited. For myself I can’t wait to get to testing next season as that’s when we’ll know if next year’s car is any good.
Why haven’t you announced where you’ll be driving in 2015 yet?
Maybe we think it’s fun to keep the media speculating! Honestly, we’re very close to having something to announce but there’s no pressure on when we say something.
How are you approaching the final races of 2014?
It’s amazing just how quickly this season has passed, even if it seemed a long, hard slog at times. We head to Austin, Brazil and Abu Dhabi determined to get the most we can from the race weekends and also using some of the practice time to evaluate different aspects of the car to gain more data for 2015.
Talking of which, there’s a different nose to be tested in Austin?
The E22Õs nose is pretty distinct so it will be unusual seeing it with something different on the front. This is part of the team’s evaluations for 2015, and the nose is designed to gather information for next year. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like, but my main focus is the race weekend.
We received the sad news about Christophe de Margerie this week Ð he was someone you were close to?
He was one of those men that you meet very rarely in a lifetime. I knew him for many years and he believed in me and helped me to achieve my motorsport dream. It was such a tragic accident and my thoughts are with his family, as well as the families of the other victims of the plane crash.
Pastor Maldonado Heads to the United States Grand Prix in Austin hoping to score his first points for the Lotus F1 Team following a difficult first season with the Enstone outfit but is looking forward to the race.
What are your thoughts of the Circuit of the Americas?
Austin is a good track, it’s a challenging layout which is good to drive and it’s an enjoyable event. The first turn is quite something with its very steep climb and the rest of the lap flows well. The atmosphere at the circuit is really special, even for the first time we visited. It’s great to see the RVs at the side of the track and people staying at the circuit to enjoy the full weekend. The circuit can be a difficult one for tyres and we had some unusual delays and interruptions on the Friday last year so it will be interesting to see what happens this time. Certainly, there can be a variety with the weather and in the past we’ve seen it be quite cold at the start of the day. The race is earlier this season so let’s see how that makes a difference.
How about Austin as a place?
It’s really a fantastic location with a lot to do. It’s certainly the type of city I’d like to visit even if there wasn’t a race there! It’s a really lively place with a lot going on. Great food, great music and great people are three things I think about when we go to Austin. The fans are superb too. It’s only the third time we will visit Austin, but already it’s one event on the calendar that we really look forward to visiting.
What’s your outlook for this race?
Obviously we want to perform better than we did in Sochi. That was a difficult weekend for many reasons. We think the Austin layout should suit our car a bit better so that’s a positive. Hopefully we won’t have any more technical issues. I know we’ll have good support from the fans so we’ll be pushing for a good result.
How was the Sochi debrief?
That was a tough weekend, for sure, but we are used to tough weekends in 2014! As always, there was a lot to learn, we gained a lot of information for how to approach Sochi next season. In Russia this year we lost too much time because of issues which stopped us running over the course of the weekend and that was especially bad for us when it was a new track. You don’t want to lose practice time at any track, but it really hurts at a new one. And no-one ever wants technical issues during qualifying.
How much are you thinking about 2015?
We still have three races left in 2014 so that is our priority, but it’s no secret that we are all looking to 2015 with a lot of excitement. It will be my second season with Lotus F1 Team and we have worked well together in 2014. There will be a lot of changes to the car and the team is very positive about the potential of next year’s chassis. At the end of the season I will get some quality time with my family then I’ll return in 2015 fresh for the next challenge.
One back-to-back combo and Abu Dhabi then that’s this season done…
Nineteen races seem to fly by, even when you’re not having the season performance you want. There have been so many changes for this year. Though the year has gone quickly, it still seems like Albert Park was such a long time ago! We have three races left to try to get some more points on the board. We know that won’t be easy with the strength of the competition, but it’s something we still try for. The final three races of 2014 are all great events so we really want to finish as strongly as we can.
The Lotus F1 Team will trial a new front nose in practice at the Circuit of the Americas next week and in a Q&A Lotus F1 Team technical director Nick Chester was asked:
How should Austin suit us?
I think we should certainly be better than in Sochi. It’s not so much a power track as some of the circuits we’ve been to. It’s got some high-speed corners that we prefer so it’s fair to say we’re looking forward to it.
What is the purpose of running with the new nose in Austin?
This will be for evaluation and aero data logging. It’s something we’re doing as part of our preparations for the E23 Hybrid, next year’s car. It won’t be the definite launch E23 nose but it is an E23-style nose that we are putting on an E22 for evaluation. We don’t expect it to perform as such on the current car as it hasn’t been optimised for the E22 but it will still be an interesting comparison.
Will we see it in FP1 only?
Yes, although we are yet to decide which driver will run it.
How far along are we with E23 preparations?
Nearly all of the resources are on the E23 now and a good chunk of them have been for some time. We are starting to laminate the first race chassis which is on schedule. Gearboxes have been cast and will be machined shortly. We have pretty much finalised the cooling system. We have also been discussing various aspects with Mercedes while we finalise the power unit installation. Most of the suspension is designed now, so we are really a good way along.
Have we any insight to the issues faced in Sochi?
We struggled in Sochi and we have identified a few reasons for that. One is that the tarmac was very new and there was a lot of bitumen on the surface, making it very light on tyres. The tyre compounds that were taken to the race, the medium and the hard, were way too hard for Sochi. This was the same for everybody though, not just us. For some teams with a little bit more downforce or more power, they could work the tyres better than we could, so we particularly struggled to get the tyres working well.
Even qualifying on the soft tyre, it took five laps to get the tyres to work properly which is not really desirable. That accentuated some of the differences. Also Sochi turned out to be a circuit with high sensitivity to power. We suspected as much from simulation runs but the extent of it really became apparent when we were there. That made it very tricky for us because for Sector 1 particularly which only has two corners in it, you really need to take wing off but then for Sector 3, you need a lot of wing. We took wing off for qualifying, really to try and improve Sector 1 but then I think we hurt the car too much in other sectors so it was a calculated risk that didn’t pay off. Certainly, we’ve learnt a lot for our return for 2015.
How big a change is it moving to a new engine supplier for the future?
It’s a big change. During all the time I’ve been at Enstone, we’re been Renault-powered. It has been that way since 1995 so you get used to working with one supplier. There are obviously differences in how a new supplier works and it’s good for us to be challenged in this way. In terms of the car, the regulations changes for 2014 were absolutely enormous, going from a V8 to a V6 turbo. It’s actually now easier for us to change power unit suppliers to Mercedes than it was going from V8 to V6 turbo which was a much more difficult transition. Mercedes have been really professional and our working relationship so far has been very constructive.
Lotus F1 deputy team principal Frederico Gastaldi was asked about both the United States Grand Prix and the new era which will begin at the team next season when the Enstone outfit begin their new power unit partnership with Mercedes next season.
The Mercedes power unit announcement was made recently. Is this the start of a renaissance for the team?
That is the plan! Obviously it was something that was in the pipeline. Behind the scenes we realised it was time for a new direction and we are very happy we can finally confirm this publically. Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains have already made a positive impression and we believe that they will be a key ingredient for future success. It has become obvious this year that they have the most competitive package on the engine side. Their strengths, allied to ours, will form a potent combination in 2015 and create a special E23 Hybrid package. The partnership also forms a key ingredient for the long-term future of Lotus F1 Team.
Are we closer yet to know who will be driving the Mercedes powered E23 Hybrid next year?
Romain is in pole position for that place and honestly it’s a case of us finalizing a few details. We expect to have an announcement very shortly. Like the technical package confirmation there has been a lot going on in the offices at Enstone, as well as the pits and paddock. It is all looking very good and exciting for the team going forwards.
Does the test for Esteban Ocon show a continued commitment to nurturing young talent at Lotus F1 Team?
Yes it does. We have a rich heritage of giving young talent a chance at Enstone, like Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Romain. Esteban is part of the Lotus F1 Team Junior programme and obviously a very talented driver. He has shown this year that he can get the job done with a record amount of victories. It was his first year of F3, so to score fifteen wins and take the crown was a special achievement. This is especially true when you consider the calibre of his opposition in Max Verstappen. We recognised EstebanÕs feat by ensuring he got his first taste of an F1 car at Valencia this week, where he impressed everyone with his application and attitude. We are looking forward to working with him as he climbs his way up to the top. It shows clearly that the Lotus F1 Team Junior programme is one of the best in motorsport and delivers exceptional talent.
It is the third time we will race at the Circuit of the Americas. What are your thoughts on the facility and also F1 generally in the US?
It is a tremendous location to race at. There are great fans from the US and Mexico mainly, but also from all over the world. The track is challenging, the drivers and fans love it and of course the US is a major, but largely untapped marketplace for F1. It will take momentum and many more US Grands Prix for F1 to be fully embraced but there is a great will from Lotus F1 Team to reach out to the US race fans and create a special relationship. We hope to put on a great show in Austin next weekend.
What about the provisional calendar for 2015. Mexico should be exciting?
Mexico is a racing country through and through. Since the days of the Rodriguez brothers and of course the great Carerra Panamericana race it has the sport in its blood. F1 will be welcomed with open arms there and I am sure there will be a great atmosphere because the Mexican fans are very passionate. We see many of them at Austin and they make a big, big noise. Mexico is also a strong economic country and there will be great opportunity commercially for F1 over there. The race next year will be a big highlight for sure.
Finally, Jules Bianchi is still very much in everyone’s thoughts as we head to the final races?
Yes, very much so and everyone at Enstone as well as everyone in the world of Formula 1 is praying for him. We also had the recent terrible news about Christophe de Margerie who was a close friend of the team. Our thoughts are also with his family as well as those of the other three victims of Monday’s plane crash.
© Ben Johnston 2014