Romain Grosjean and Lotus F1 Team reached the chequered flag for the first time in 2014 at Sepang, when the Frenchman overcame a loss of downforce to win an entertaining duel for eleventh place with former team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. Now the aim is to do better in Bahrain’s inaugural F1 night race.
What are your thoughts looking ahead to Bahrain?
It’s a good track and I’m happy to go back there. I’m especially looking forward to the first night race at a circuit I like. Twice I’ve raced there in Formula 1 and twice I’ve been on the podium. So that’s a good record! We were not very successful in the pre-season tests, but hopefully there will be some more updates and performance from our side. I’m sure everyone is going to work hard even though there are just a few days before Bahrain. The race finish at Sepang is a big encouragement. No matter what the challenge, we are aiming for podiums and strong performances wherever we go.
What do you like about the Bahrain track?
On paper it is not the most amazing circuit, but when you drive it’s pretty cool. I like the long straights followed by the hairpins and then the twisty middle section with a lot of G-force which makes it exciting. It gives the driver plenty to do behind the wheel and it gives you quite a lot to do in the debrief as well. It’s always rewarding when you balance all the different demands on the car to get the lap as fast as possible.
How important for progress is the mileage attained in Malaysia?
It is essential. To make major progress we need more days like Saturday and Sunday in Malaysia, where we learned a lot about the car. There are some encouraging signs. We know we have a lot of work ahead, but we also know which areas to work on. We will try new things in Bahrain and I’m confident the car will be better.
How did it feel to reach the chequered flag in Malaysia?
Finishing the race was our first objective and then we wanted to see where we were with our car. It’s not perfect yet but it’s good to be where we are at this stage. I had a big loss of downforce around eight laps from the end which made things difficult, especially when I had to defend. Without that issue, I’m sure we could have finished higher. It was a good battle with Kimi. I kept remembering our past battles to make sure he couldn’t go through!
What are the current generation cars like to race?
I would say they are early in their development and we’re still some way from where we want to be in terms of performance. At the moment there is a lot of management going on in the cockpit and we’ll develop a better understanding and strategies of how to approach the race. Certainly, we’ve only completed one race so there’s lots more to come.
Do you think the night race will make much difference in Bahrain?
It means a later start, and if my calculations of how the day schedule runs are right, it could mean a larger window for sleep which is always welcome! In terms of at the track, every year we have had hot temperatures and a lot of sun which made tyre degradation quite high. Temperatures will clearly be lower at night and we’ll have to see how that changes grip and degradation. I don’t know if being at night will make much difference to the results, but it will certainly be an exciting event visually. It is also the tenth anniversary of the race so I’m sure they will put on a good show.
Why has Bahrain been so kind to you in the past?
I wouldn’t say it’s been exactly kind, but certainly we’ve been able to perform well there in the past. It’s a track I knew from before Formula 1 and it has characteristics that I like in a circuit; some big braking into certain corners, some good change of direction with the double-left in the middle of the racetrack and it all flows quite nicely. With the E20 and E21 we were able to take advantage of the car’s good balance and kindness to tyres. It’s early to say how the E22 will perform, but we head there with a positive frame of mind.
With the first two races of the season not quite going to plan, Pastor Maldonado looks forward to the challenge of one of the toughest races of the season.
What do you think of the Bahrain International Circuit?
Bahrain is a good circuit. We’ve been there in the pre-season and I think all the teams will be happy to return, especially for the weather and the type of track. I would say it is a ‘complete’ circuit because it has a mix of high, medium and low speed turns, plus good sequences of corners. So it’s a good venue to test at, which is exactly what we need to evaluate our new developments. The facilities for the teams are great as well.
Malaysia then Bahrain, do you enjoy racing in the heat?
To be honest they are not my favourite conditions, but it’s the same for everyone so I’m not complaining. When the visor goes down it doesn’t matter. You just focus on driving.
How important has the track time been during the Malaysian weekend?
It’s the most important thing. More mileage with the car means the engineers can increasingly focus on performance. Clearly reliability is still not 100 percent, partly because of our late testing debut with the car, but we have fixed many problems and that enables us to turn more attention to performance.
How frustrating was it to suffer from issues every day of the race weekend?
Very, of course! I’m here to race so you never want to be sat in the garage when the car should be out on track. I had more than my fair share of unreliability in Malaysia, but every time we expose a problem it means we have something to fix and we take a step forwards. There were good positives in Sepang. I did get some good laps and I can feel that the E22 is a proper race car. A race car that still needs quite a lot of work, but still a race car with great potential. We saw that Romain completed a race distance, which is a great positive. We also saw our rivals having problems, showing that we are not alone with the challenges of these very different new cars.
How would you sum up Sunday at Sepang?
With Bianchi I just felt an impact at the back of the car which spun me around. But from the start we were losing a lot of power which meant I had to retire in order to protect the engine. Despite that, the weekend was clearly a step forwards. Since the Saturday, we were able to run far more with the car and Romain was able to finish the race. We’re not the only ones with issues so early in the season. This is all related to the complex packages in the car, but we learnt a lot and will make progress for Bahrain.
What do you want from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend?
Good reliable laps in the car would be the starting point. This will allow us to understand the car’s performance and where we can improve it. It will allow me to give feedback to my engineers and understand the challenges of driving the latest generation car. We can also work on understanding the tyres better as they are different this year, and the tyres are always an area where performance gains can be made.
Bahrain will be a night race for the first time, will that mean any special changes?
We will probably need to approach Bahrain a little differently technically now, in terms of tyre pressures and set-up. Otherwise we will treat it much like any other race and obviously we have experience from night events in Singapore and Abu Dhabi. I’m definitely looking forward to it though. It’s the first time at night in Bahrain so something new for us all to discover.