The Lotus F1™ Team wasn’t able to show its true potential Down Under, but the signs are very promising.
Romain Grosjean’s race may have been over in two laps, but he was still smiling widely afterwards because he knows the Lotus E20 is quick, and having posted P3 on Saturday the Frenchman’s star is on the rise.
“I was disappointed for the first 30 minutes, but we have to take the positives,” he said back in the paddock. “The car is good, the pace is there, the team is doing an excellent job. The atmosphere is nice and I’m very proud to be here with Lotus. I think we’ll see the black and gold cars close to the top quite often.”
Romain was slow to get away due to an upshift problem, falling back to sixth. Then Williams’ Pastor Maldonado went to pass, the two touched, and the Lotus’ suspension was knackered.
“We had a small issue with the gearbox, but we’ll investigate it and next race we’ll be fine,” he said of the start. As for the crash, he points the blame at the Venezuelan. “It was yellow in Turn 12, the turn before. We all slowed down and I think he took advantage of that. I came to Turn 13 and broke already very late. I saw him come down the inside, really really late. I had to turn before the gravel to stay on track. He couldn’t turn so he hit my car and end of story.”
On his comeback, Kimi Raikkonen proved there’s plenty of fire in the Iceman still. After pushing too hard in qualifying and starting 18th he had an uphill battle, but was soon in the top ten and ran as high as second when the leaders pitted. “I made a good start but then there was an accident in front of me, so I lost a few places there as I almost had to stop and move onto the grass to avoid it. That made the race harder as we had the speed but a lot of traffic to contend with.”
His main opponent was Kamui Kobayashi with whom he traded paint as he pounced on the Sauber driver. On the final lap, when Maldonado dropped his Williams in spectacular style, the midfield pack scrambled to make up positions. Kimi came through and seized seventh, a very respectable result given where he started.
“We could have finished in a much better position. Overall the weekend was far from ideal, but the car feels good and at least we come away with some points.”
Eric Boullier, the team principal, is feeling upbeat despite the relatively modest points haul. “We should be leaving Australia with mixed feelings but actually we all have a little grin on our faces tonight. The team has produced a very solid car and we think there’s definitely more to come from us.”
Romain in particular is looking forward to Sepang. “Malaysia is my favourite track. I think we can have a good race there, the car should love those fast corners.”
JEAN ALESI GIVES US HIS THOUGHTS ON THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
First, let’s talk about Romain Grosjean. What a performance in qualifying….
I was so happy to see this. I know Romain quite well, and actually his trainer was my trainer when I was 18 so I suppose in some ways I see myself in him. When you are young and starting out – as he basically is, because his races with Renault in 2009 seem like long ago – it is really important to start strongly. Saturday showed him what he and his car are capable of, and this will fill him with confidence. The incident in the race was a mix of lack of experience and bad luck because he wasn’t to blame.
Could Romain have done anything to avoid contact with Pastor Maldonado?
Maldonado, you see the way he finished the race. He was quick but what should have been a great race for Williams was book-ended with two nasty crashes. Maldonado was probably overexcited because it’s the beginning of the championship. Unfortunately Romain was a victim.
France is desperate for a winning driver. Could Romain become a superstar at home?
It’s important to be consistent. You need to do the job everytime. I hope he has a competitive car throughout the season, but you know it’s not easy when the other teams around you have bigger budgets. Lotus appear to be quicker than everyone except McLaren. But the guys they beat in qualifying – Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari – have much bigger budgets. Lotus is punching above its weight. They have a brilliant team at Enstone but it is really tough to match the development pace of the biggest teams, and I think that will be Lotus’ challenge this year.
Kimi Raikkonen made a mistake in qualifying, but scored points on Sunday. How do you rate his Lotus debut?
In the qualifying shootout, when you make a mistake you pay cash. Kimi ruined his lap and failed to make it across the line to start another by three or four seconds, which was unlucky. In the race we saw him overtaking, shouting on the radio, he was really pushing. There can be no doubt Kimi is hungry, and that’s just what Lotus need. In the end, I think seventh place was a good result considering he started 18th.
Where do you expect the Lotus drivers to be on the grid in Malaysia?
The car should suit Sepang well. In testing in Jerez and Barcelona is was particularly good in the fast turns, which is what defines the Malaysia track. So, barring incidents, I think we could see some magic there.