Saturday, 21 March 2015

Lotus F1 Team Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

(Lotus F1 Team)

The Lotus F1 Team head into next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix hoping to bounce back from a difficult opening race in Australia.

Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado did a fantastic job in qualifying starting the race from eighth and ninth place respectively however Maldonado was forced to retire from the race on the opening lap as he was hit into a spin by the Sauber F1 Team’s Felipe Nasr and hit the wall going down to Turn 3 as a result.

Grosjean had an equally disappointing race as he lost engine power with his Mercedes Hybrid power unit and was forced to retire from the race.

The Enstone outfit have shown however that they have produced a competitive car for 2015 and it has proven to be very quick with the Mercedes power unit in the back and with the long straights in Malaysia next weekend the Sepang circuit should suit the characteristics of the E23 Hybrid.

Speaking about to the Enstone outfit ahead of the Malaysian GrandPrix Deputy Team Principal Frederico Gastaldi commented saying:

‘It’s amazing to think we’ll be racing in Sepang for the seventeenth time this year! Malaysia’s an interesting commercial market for us as a team and the event usually delivers a great race. Sepang’s a superb facility and there’s normally a really strong turn out too. The track layout really challenges the drivers and engineers and this combined with the challenges the weather can present makes for an event we all enjoy.’

Gastaldi was asked about his expectations from the team for the race in Malaysian to which the Argentinian stated:

‘We should build on the work in Australia. Yes, our race was very short there, however we’ve demonstrated the first step of our 2015 fightback by qualifying in the top ten with good race pace potential. There’s nothing to say Sepang should not suit us, so we’re ready to deliver.’

Gastaldi felt the team learnt a lot from the new car and in and believes in terms of the development potential of the car it looks good.

‘We learnt that the E23 looks to be a good car relative to its opposition, albeit a car that still has strong development potential to get better. Pastor and Romain were both very happy over the weekend in Australia. Even after both drivers retired from the race for different reasons, they both still had glints in their eyes despite their race frustrations. The reason for the underlying positivity at the team is we know we’re capable of delivering good strong results this year.’

Speaking about the spectacle of the race in Melbourne’s Albert Park, Gastaldi stated:

‘On many levels the event delivered spectacularly. The crowds were fantastic, the organisation was exemplary and it’s a pleasure to start the season in Melbourne. The official ticket sales information say that there were 101,500 spectators on Sunday which is a very impressive rise compared to last year’s sales. Formula 1 is back on track! We must all say thanks a Million Ron Walker for a magnificent job done from you and your fantastic team through 20 great races. Formula 1 will miss your exemplary personality and entrepreneurship enthusiasm! In terms of this year’s track action, we can’t say that it was a classic race, and not only because our cars weren’t involved in most of it! That said, you never know what might happen in the first race of the season. There were some good battles down the field and some very good debuts from new drivers. It’s clear all of us have some work to do to take the battle to Mercedes, but that’s what we’re all working hard for.’

Speaking about what he would like to see from the team in Malaysia, Gastaldi had just one word, points, but went on to say:

‘Points. That’s what we’re here for. We want to see progress from the start we made at Albert Park and it would be fantastic to have both cars greet the chequered flag with a good clutch of points stashed away. Of course, this is what every team is trying to do, but we’re battling hard at Enstone to make this happen.’

Speaking about the Spanish Grand Prix Gastaldi said:

‘It’s not looking promising for this year but I’m sure we’ll be back in 2016. It’s of course a shame for everyone, especially all the German fans who wanted to come see Formula 1, but these things happen sometimes in the commercial world. For the team we know we have nineteen races. Twenty races makes for a long season so we still have a pretty full season even if one race is dropped.’

Finally Gastaldi was asked what the team’s expectations are for the first half of the season to which he responded by saying:

‘Re-establishing ourselves as a force to be reckoned with on track is certainly the primary aim as we did suffer in that regard last season. Through doing this we can offer the best return to our partners as well as show further appeal for new partners. We’re having a number of discussions in this area so there’s strong potential to grow the team before the year is out.’

Romain Grosjean will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of the Australian Grand Prix in Sepang and speaking to the team about the challenges of the race the Frenchman stated:

‘The first challenges in Malaysia will be the heat, humidity and usual rain storms at 4pm! It’s a good track with some interesting corners, fast straights and a track surface that can sometimes be difficult to understand. The heat and humidity can give the cars and drivers something to think about and the rain can give us all a challenge too. For us as a team, the target is to get some race laps on the board.’

Grosjean felt that the team learnt a lot about the new car in Australia saying:

‘Albert Park was quite a strong weekend in terms of getting on top of the car, finding strong pace and a good balance and demonstrating good potential, but it was a very brief in terms of race laps, or should I say a race lap?! It was unfortunate that our race was very short because of quite a simple issue, but it’s something everyone back at Enstone has been working on. I’m sure we’ll have a much better race in Sepang.’

Despite the disappointment of the opening weekend of the weekend of the season Grosjean believes the mood inside the team is extremely positive he said:

‘It was frustrating to drive back to the pit at the end of the first lap, but despite this we’re all very positive in the team. Of course, there were a few choice expressions for a few moments afterwards, but we all have seen that this year’s car is good - it has great potential – and we know we’ll be delivering strong points finishes very soon, hopefully in Malaysia. For myself, I spoke with the team straight after returning to the pits and we were quite quickly able to work out what had happened. One frustrating race doesn’t detract from the full season ahead.’

Grosjean feels that behind Mercedes the pack has closed up but that a lot of work is needed for the rest to catch them:

‘It’s still early days, but it’s clear we’ve all got a lot of work to do to get to the level of the Mercedes. Behind them the pack is much closer. For us at Lotus F1 Team we know it’s the first season with a new engine supplier so we’re still learning about the potential. Certainly, the E23 has a lot more to come and it’s going to be very exciting working with everyone at Enstone to develop the car yet further.’

When asked about the Sepang circuit and what it’s like to race on Grosjean stated:

‘It’s one of my favourites. It has a great flow to it and there are good overtaking opportunities as well as good potential for an exciting race. It’s a circuit that many drivers like. It’s also an interesting track for the engineers working to get the best set-up for the car to work well. It makes for quite a hard race too, as you have the heat and humidity along with the challenge of the track itself. It’s going to be fun.’

The Frenchman was also asked about the conditions in Malaysia:

‘We haven’t done any proper running with this car in the wet, so if we see rain during the course of a session it’s going to be a learning experience. The E23 demonstrates pretty good baseline characteristics and its driveability and balance are what you want from a car in the wet so this shouldn’t make for too many issues.’

In terms of his expectations for the race Grosjean stated:

‘Our target for the early races is to be regularly in the top ten. We certainly demonstrated that in Albert Park and our race pace simulations were good so if we’d remained in the race we should have finished strongly. There’s nothing to suggest this can’t be the case in Malaysia and we really want to start scoring points.’

Pastor Maldonado had a fantastic qualifying session for the Enstone outfit in Australia and through no fault of his own was forced to retire from the race. Speaking about the race in Sepang the Venezuelan stated:

‘Sepang is a good track and I really like the challenges it presents. It’s very interesting from an engineering point of view, especially the aerodynamics, but also the tyres because the asphalt is very aggressive. Hopefully the race will be much longer for us than it was in Australia!’

When asked about the weather in Sepang, Maldonado stated:

‘We know the weather at Sepang can change a lot; in fact it is usually either extreme heat or extreme rain, so very tropical and we’ll need to be ready for everything. Also the high temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability. From the driving point of view it is quite stressful as well. All round, I would say Sepang is one of the toughest races of the year. We’ll need to be strong in all areas.’

Reflecting on the Australian Grand Prix Maldonado stated:

‘From our perspective it was a very short race! It was really frustrating as the car looked good all weekend – better even than it had looked in testing – and we had good potential with our race pace and durability. Then my race was undone in the first corners. There was nothing I could do as there was contact occurring behind me which then collected my car. It was difficult to look at the damage done to the car as I knew how hard all the crew in the pits and the rest of the team at Enstone had been working. That’s motor racing sometimes, unfortunately. I didn’t see much of the rest of the race but I was told it wasn’t the most exciting. Hopefully we’ll be in action for all of the Malaysian Grand Prix to ensure it’s better to watch, and better for our results!’

Maldonado felt that a point’s finish could have been on the cards in Australia saying:

‘Everything looked very positive for a strong top ten finish, maybe even top five. Our car was strong and we adapted to the track well. The weather was in our favour and we had great potential.’

When asked if he felt a similar situation for points could be on offer in Malaysia Maldonado stated:

‘It’s still very early in the season so there will still be surprises as teams learn their cars and unlock their potential. Certainly, everything we’ve seen so far with the E23 suggests that it should be a good all-rounder. Sepang can get very hot, and our car seems to like hot conditions so that could be a point in our favour.’

The Venezuelan was asked about what he thought mixed weather racing will be like in Malaysia:
‘We know that we sometimes see heavy rain in Sepang, so it won’t be a surprise if we do see mixed conditions this year. Certainly, it can give the engineers a challenge in terms of setting up the car if there’s a wet session, or if there’s rain between the sessions as it can change the track conditions. It’s the same for everyone, of course, and at least it’s hot and wet which is far better than cold and wet!’

Finally he was asked about his training regime for the race:

‘It is very humid in Malaysia, so you do have to ensure you have a good fluid intake, but in terms of training it’s a very similar programme to that you follow all year. I work closely with my trainer, Fabrizio, to ensure good all-round fitness, but in particular that I’m as fit as possible to drive an F1 car which is the primary focus. I come from Venezuela so I’m used to hot weather.’

© Ben Johnston 2015

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