Friday, 15 May 2015

Lotus F1 Team Monaco Grand Prix Preview

(© Ben Johnston 2015)

The Lotus F1 Team head to the Monaco Grand Prix next weekend hoping to continue their points scoring run after Romain Grosjean finished the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona last weekend in seventh place.

Grosjean finished in the points despite a collision with his Enstone team mate Pastor Maldonado who was forced to retire from the race following the incident. Although the team were unable with the incident they refused to apportion blame on either driver and are hopeful that they will never ever see a repeat.

The Lotus F1 Team head to Monaco in sixth place in the championship on 16 points and taking part in a Q&A with the outfit as part of their preview Deputy Team Principal Frederico Gastaldi was asked:

What does Monaco mean for the team?

The Monaco Grand Prix is the real highlight of the calendar. First of all, the street circuit
that is Monaco presents a very big challenge for the drivers because of the configuration
and the pure nature of the track – it is narrow with next to no run-off areas and
then there are all the barriers! Preparations for the race start a day earlier than normal
as the first two Free Practice sessions are on the Thursday. Monte Carlo is also a very
social event and our agendas are certainly not short of commitments throughout the
week. From a business point of view it is also the place where we hold discussions
with new prospects and where we have the opportunity to spend time with our existing
partners. We are also planning a number of exciting announcements in the run up to the
race so watch this space.

Do you enjoy the special atmosphere of the Principality?

For sure I do enjoy the atmosphere of Monaco a lot. It’s a different model of
race weekend than anywhere else mixing motorsport at the highest level with the
most incredible social scene. We are very close to the fans which I think is just
fantastic. They get access to the track itself shortly after the running and they can really
live Formula One at the very heart of it. I feel very privileged to be part of this event.

How do you stop team-mates from driving into each other?

Of course these things can happen and it is part of racing, even if it’s not ideal. Drivers
always want to be on the front and at the end they are competing. They take risks and
sometimes we see situations like the one we saw in Barcelona occur.

What are the challenges at this time of the season?

We need to keep improving the level performance. We are much more competitive than last year – of course we have the new engine but it is also due to the aerodynamic and mechanical improvements made in 2015. The car’s performance is very solid and we have big expectations for Monaco and indeed for the next upcoming races. Enstone keeps doing a great job and I’d like to thank everyone for the big efforts they are making. Our people are our best asset and we have two good experienced drivers. Let’s continue to score points and gain places in the field.

The team scored points these last three races, what are your hopes for Monte Carlo?

Again, the level of competitiveness of the E23 is there. We need to have a little bit of
luck and have a clear weekend. We have every chance of being able to score points
with both cars in Monte Carlo.

Did the team make good progress at the test?

Yes it did. Pastor was testing a number of parts and working on preparations for next
Grands Prix. He has shown a great deal of confidence around a circuit that he knows
well. His feedback was very constructive for the team. Jolyon, who drove on the second
day of testing, did a great job and it was a nice surprise for the team to see him do so
well and complete a solid day’s work. The team now looks forward in implementing
findings of testing in Monaco.

What advice would you give the drivers ahead of the race on the streets of the

I would say to them to be careful in the first corner at the race start!

Romain Grosjean goes into the race next weekend off the back of a strong few race’s with the E23 Hybrid including an eighth place finish last time out in Spain. Speaking in a Q&A with team, the Frenchman was asked:

What does Monaco mean to you?

It’s like an unofficial French Grand Prix first of all! It’s great to see so much French support
every year and there are so many flags and banners. It’s a very challenging circuit and
unique on the calendar. As a driver you have to stay calm and relaxed on a track that doesn’t allow for any mistakes. I’ve been super quick in the past, but I’ve also hit the walls too, so there’s a real balance to be struck. It’s an exciting and glamorous Grand Prix but always a step into the unknown, because it’s difficult to predict how well each car will work there. It’s a crazy week with all the focus and attention, but everyone loves Monaco.

What is your favourite part of the track?

Certainly not the walls! I do like the Casino corner which is quite nice, high-speed with a little bit of banking. The most difficult part would be the next section - Mirabeau, Loews and then the two Portier corners because you have to ‘create’ some speed there. There’s not a dull moment at any time over the course of a lap.

How satisfying is it when you put everything together for a good lap around Monaco?

When you finish a lap and you know it’s quick because you’ve given everything and thought
you were about to go off about three times, it is something special. Finding the balance
between pushing too hard and not enough makes a huge difference in Monaco.

Is it hard to keep your focus during such a busy event?

It true there are almost too many things to do. I will try to find some time for myself in my room and keep focusing on what I have to do. It’s a home Grand Prix for the sponsors, so very important for them and for us it is a very challenging track.

How do you think the E23 Hybrid will work on the streets of Monte Carlo?

The emphasis at Monaco is on low speed corners, which is historically hasn’t been our greatest strength, but this year our package as proved to be pretty good no matter what the circuit layout: the E23 is a pretty adaptable car! Bumpy straights and a low grip surface are the other main Monaco characteristics and how well you adapt to them can make or break your weekend. We generally prefer the softer tyres of Pirelli’s range, but you need really, really soft and grippy tyres for Monaco as it’s so slippery! Monaco is less engine dependent than most circuits which puts a premium on the driveability and set-up of the car. The E23 has been pretty confidence-inspiring which is something very good on a street course.

The Spanish Grand Prix weekend seemed a little scrappy for the team overall; how
was it for you?

You have some weekends where everything goes to plan, then you have some where
everything’s a bit more difficult. In Barcelona, we didn’t quite get everything going in the right way. I never like missing FP1, so felt that made getting the car where I wanted more of a challenge, then we couldn’t unlock the pace we thought was there. Once it was clear that Q3 was going to be difficult to achieve we looked to save tyres for our race strategy and that was working well. In the race there was a small bit of contact between me and Pastor – the least said about that the better – then I lost fourth gear in the car. It was difficult to reprogramme to drive around the problem at first, but once I did the lap times weren’t bad at all. Unfortunately, I stopped long in one of my pit stops and a couple of the guys made contact with the car, although fortunately there was no lasting damage; I’ve promised to get them some beers to make up for it! In the end, I finished eighth and collected more points. Had the weekend been perfect maybe a seventh-place finish was on the cards, so despite the many challenges over the weekend it certainly wasn’t the end of the world!

Pastor Maldonado goes into the Monaco Grand Prix weekend aiming to score his first points of the season following what has been a difficult start to his 2015 campaign. Taking part in the team preview Q&A the Venezuelan was asked:

What makes Monaco so special for you?

First of all it’s such an historic Grand Prix and an iconic race for Formula 1. I really love it. I’ve been very quick in the past and I think it is one of the most special weekends of the year. The atmosphere is unique. The track is really challenging and changes a lot over the sessions, which you need to anticipate. It’s difficult to be quick close to the walls and overall it’s a very tough race, demanding in terms of concentration and stressful physically and mentally. The only negative thing is that it is quite difficult to overtake, but it is not impossible.

What are your favourite parts of the circuit?

I really like the Casino and Swimming Pool sections. Every corner in Monaco has its own challenge, and own individual approach needed - that is probably the beauty of the circuit there. It’s where I live now so I might be biased, but it’s avery special place.

What are your early memories of Monaco?

Monaco was always my favourite track when I was watching Formula 1 on TV as a kid. Then the first time I went to a Grand Prix was also Monaco, in 2003, which was my first year in Formula Renault. Juan Pablo Montoya won and it was amazing to see how close they were to the wall and how quick the cars were, because they had V10 engines then. Another good Monaco memory for me is winning in GP2 in 2007 and 2009.

It was something of an interesting Spanish Grand Prix for you – how was it from your perspective?

Our luck hasn’t been great but this is racing. With the damaged rear wing endplate I suffered early in the race, we lost some downforce for sure. However, the pace was still there and I was pushing to try and recover. Unfortunately we had to retire the car on Lap 45. I didn’t get a chance to speak to Romain because we both left immediately after the race. It was a very little touch. It happened but we move on, it’s all a part of racing. We have a car that has a lot of potential and we are fighting ever higher in the field. We have a good engine and the tyres are lasting longer and that makes us confident that we can get some good results in the near future. We need to stay strong and as soon as the bad luck passes it will be very fun!

How much progress was made at the test?

We had a list of plenty of parts to test. Even in the 60 laps we did on the day, we didn’t have enough time to test everything but it was satisfying. A lot of the work we did was also in
preparation of the next race and as always we learnt a lot during the test. Monaco is a very different approach for the team and the drivers. I have been working at 100% so that
we are fully prepared. The car is in good shape, we have discovered some things during the test which have made us confident going into Monaco so I am looking forward to doing my best. We are expecting a Monaco-specific aero package. I think we can make some big jumps still, we have good potential and we can do much better throughout the European season!

What have you been working on back at Enstone in the simulator?

I’ve been experimenting with different setups and aero combinations which contributes not only to Monaco next weekend but also to the other upcoming races. Also, we’ve recorded some more data for the engineers to analyse and build on. It is positive to be here at the factory in between races. I will have some time off this weekend with my family but then it is back to work ready for the Monaco Grand Prix!

© Ben Johnston 2015

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