Newly appointed Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi gives an insight on where Lotus F1 Team stands as we head into the second race of the season at Sepang this weekend.
It’s been an interesting first week for you in your new role?
I think it would be right to say that the start of the season has been a tough wake up call for everyone. I knew that it was not going to be easy to start with, and I’ve been in Formula 1 long enough to understand what was coming. It was frustrating more than anything to see the team working so hard; everyone pulling all-nighters but without great results to show for it on track. Following the race on Sunday it felt like we’d completed our first real test as the two weeks in Bahrain were a very frustrating experience for everyone. The Melbourne race was the first time we managed to run some consistent laps with both cars,
because the free practice sessions were so difficult. So, on that
side it was very tough considering the amount of hard work that everyone put in to make things happen.
What does your experience bring to the team?
It’s true I’ve been in Formula 1 for many years, and in various different roles. I’ve been with ‘Team Enstone’ since the Benetton days and there are many people from those times who are still with the team which shows it has a solid bedrock.
I feel very much part of the team and my goal is to deliver what I feel it deserves in terms of results on the track. That’s my main objective here. I will still be involved with business development and searching for new partners and investors. My other main goal is to try to put together all the elements with regards to all the talented people in the team, and to ensure we can deliver. It’s obviously not only up to us - Renault Sport F1 play a big part within this framework so it’s all about working together to achieve the best results possible. I know this team is the best in the paddock, there is absolutely no doubt about that in my mind. We have some of the most committed and experienced personnel around and they all have a winning mentality.
What’s your perception of Romain so far this year and how he’s dealt with the difficult situation?
Romain has matured greatly in the past few years. His approach to the team is very positive; he understands that we’re all making a big effort, just as he is making a big effort in the cockpit. Like all of us he’s frustrated, obviously. However he’s very hands-on and wants to understand what is needed from his side in order to move forward in the right direction. Australia was tough for him, with tricky free practice sessions, and a disastrous qualifying. The race was what it was, in essence a test, but ultimately he is very positive – he knows this is a good team who deliver great cars and win races.
How is Pastor settling in?
For Pastor it’s all new, but his approach has been extremely positive. His work ethic is very serious and he’s a hardworking professional. Obviously, like Romain, he felt frustrated. I think it’s natural! Romain has been here longer, and Pastor paid attention to him and the way in which everything worked over the weekend. Pastor has been very constructive and thumbs up to him for delivering the maximum in what is a temporarily difficult situation.
Talk us through the plan for Malaysia – what’s the realistic aim?
To keep learning. I would be dancing faster than the music if I said something different! We need to keep learning and if everything goes as we anticipate, in collaboration with Renault Sport F1, then we will be in a position to continue progressing for Bahrain and when the Championship comes back to Europe in May.
What would you say to all the doubters?
I’d say wait and see what we can really achieve with the E22. If you look at it logically, Renault Sport F1 are the reigning world championship winning engine partner, so how is it possible to go from there to nothing? They will deliver the right package to all of us which will enable Lotus F1 Team to be at the front once again. We’re a smaller team - we’re not Mercedes or Ferrari or McLaren, but we have enormous pure racing spirit. This team has been around a long time and we have people here from the glory days, who have passed on the philosophy and ethos of the team’s renowned spirit and passion. We are ready to fight!
Although clearly not happy with the frustrations of getting his race car where he wants it to be in the shortest possible time, Romain Grosjean is quick to see the positives and potential as Lotus F1 Team heads to the second race of the 2014 season in Sepang, Malaysia, this weekend.
What will be the main challenges at Sepang?
The first challenge in Malaysia will be the heat, humidity and usual rain storms at 4pm! For us as a team, the target is to move forwards and improve. The race in Melbourne was basically a good, long test. It wasn’t easy for the guys but I’m happy we did a lot of laps in the race. We gathered some useful data and we will now improve using that data. The aim now is to have a straightforward weekend at Sepang, working through our proper schedule in free practice, then carrying the benefits from that over to qualifying and the race. Sepang is one of my favourite circuits and I’m looking forward to it.
There was a big step up on race day in Australia. Does that give you faith that more progress could follow?
Whenever we solve a problem we make a big step forward, whether it is with set-up, the engine or any other developments. We’ve seen this happen with other teams too. We are feeling greedy at the moment. We want to keep making big progress like in Australia, not just one or two tenths, but big chunks of time and of course better reliability. We’ll prioritise and work as hard as we can to achieve that. The mechanics definitely deserved a rest after Australia though. They worked long hours all weekend and still did some of the fastest pit stops in the race. The guys were excellent and with a work ethic like that there is no reason why we won’t get on top of this car soon and exploit the huge potential of the E22.
How different is the driving experience in a Grand Prix now after the technical changes?
It is not quite as pleasant as before to be honest. There is a lot of energy recovery to deal with and optimise. You cannot drive most of the Grand Prix at 90 per cent as before, sometimes now it is only 30 per cent. We just have to get used to it. When you win you love it and when you retire, you don’t. At the moment it feels a little frustrating as a driver but these are the rules, we will adapt and make the best of them.
We saw quite a bit of drama in Australia, how do you think the season will progress?
It will not be easy for anyone. We have seen some of the favourites going out or having problems and others that we were not expecting to be up there make an impression. It’s a bit unpredictable at the moment and not easy to know where everyone stands. I think Mercedes is looking good, as is McLaren. Our task is to get up there and amongst them.
What did you learn in Australia?
That we still have a lot of work to do! Other than the early finish, the Australian Grand Prix was positive. We learned more about the car in 44 racing laps than during the whole of winter testing! The team has done so much work and each of the changes have been in the right direction. It was looking good in the race and then we had the same problem as Pastor: the MGU-K shaft. But at least there is no mystery about what happened and we are working with Renault Sport F1 to solve the problem.
Overall we are happy with the chassis, the aero balance for the changing fuel load, the driveability of the engine and the fuel economy. Of course there is work to do with energy management and recovery and we know Renault Sport F1 is responding to this. On our side we know more about the set-up and the direction we must go in order to make the car better. Braking for example was not perfect, but that is also to do with the tyres. The new tyres are really hard and their handling characteristics have changed. We are not getting the best out of them yet, but we will. There are plenty of areas for us to play with, but we now have a clear base set-up for Malaysia.
With his Lotus F1 Team Grand Prix debut completed, Pastor Maldonado looks forward to the challenge of one of the toughest races of the season.
What are your thoughts looking to Sepang?
Sepang is a good track and I really like the challenges it presents us with. It’s very interesting from the car point of view, especially the aerodynamics, but also the tyres because the asphalt is very aggressive. Hopefully this event will go more smoothly for us compared with Australia. We know we need to work very hard to achieve our aims and objectives for the E22. We know where our main focus lies and as a team we are determined to get there.
The weather can be quite interesting at Sepang…
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 extreme temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability and 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.
How much were you able to learn from your laps in Australia?
A lot. It was the longest stint I’ve done so far and that’s very important for the engineers who can now work through the data and find improvements. Naturally, our immediate priority is to finish the races, but in Formula 1 you never stop searching for more pace as well.
There was a lot of progress made during the Australian Grand Prix. Does that give you faith more progress will follow?
Yes, the whole weekend was pretty incredible. To be honest I’ve never seen anything like it. We started nowhere and we kept on having problems. With these cars, even little problems can take a very long time to fix. Some of the problems are very difficult to diagnose as they are electronic or software related. These all require so much time and focus. The efforts put in by everyone at Lotus F1 Team were amazing. Especially from the mechanics at the track, who worked all day and night, more than 24 hours straight, then still did really fast pit stops in the race. It was inspiring and makes me very proud to be part of this team. The season has not started the way we want, but I know everyone is working tremendously hard to ensure we get the team back to the top end of the grid.
What were the positives after Albert Park?
We made clear improvements during the weekend. The team has shown it is ready to do whatever it takes. This is good because my philosophy to racing is the same and I will do whatever it takes as well. Now we can go through the data and improve step-by-step. It is a long season and we need to be positive because we saw one Renault-engined car finish on the podium after the race. So we know our engine can fight for the podium and now we need to work harder than the other teams. This gives us a lot of motivation going forward. Australia was obviously a very disappointing weekend, but if you look at the positives we did more laps than in the pre-season which is quite encouraging as we have more data which is very important for making progress. We had a very negative free practice but we did plenty of laps during the race which is very constructive for the team. It shows that we’ll keep pushing and the hard work will eventually pay off.
What about the car itself?
The E22 has a lot of potential and is feeling better to drive every time we go out. We’ve had a lot of initial issues with the car, but this has been the same up and down the pit lane. I’m impressed every time I look at the packaging of the car and I know that the work going on at Enstone and with Renault Sport F1 will make the E22 into a podium contender very soon indeed.
After a challenging first race weekend of the 2014 season, Technical Director Nick Chester evaluates the key technical lessons from Melbourne and looks ahead to Malaysia.
How frustrating was it to be at the back of the grid in Australia?
It was very frustrating. Everyone in the team worked really hard for Melbourne. In my fourteen years at Enstone I cannot remember a more intense period of work and for there to be no tangible reward for it is tough to take but we knew that this would likely be the case. It was disappointing that we were not quicker and that we were unable to attain a truly representative position on the grid. Everyone understood that there are so many new parts and so much new technology for 2014, so we knew that it was going to be difficult for everything to work straight away and achieve a positive result. We are now addressing these issues one by one and making clear, quantifiable progress.
How did Romain and Pastor approach the weekend?
Both drivers were really strong and resolute in their approaches. They knew that it was going to be a challenging weekend after the evidence from the final test in Bahrain and although they wanted it to be a normal race weekend, I think that they both knew the value of making the very most of whatever track time we got. They were very professional throughout the weekend. Their feedback was very important particularly after the race when they had done a lot of miles even though unfortunately we didn’t finish the race itself.
What were the positives to take from Australia?
We know that there is good potential with the E22 and we need to get the whole package operating properly. The lack of mileage meant that we encountered problems that would normally have been resolved prior to the first race. Some issues we confronted were associated with software, the fixes for which can be quite time consuming. Worse than that, they can be time consuming at the most inopportune times over a race weekend. That said, we left Australia with some key directions including a deeper understanding of the energy management and how we need to optimize it.
Where does the team go from here in terms of making more progress for the upcoming races?
There are several issues we have pinpointed in Australia that we will be working on; some on the chassis and some on the power unit. I know that Renault Sport F1 are working very hard to fix issues on the software and also some on the mapping. The E22 is much more complicated in terms of how you operate the power unit and how it interacts with other systems on the car. This is something we need to improve on; and there is a lot of time to be found in this area.
With one race completed, how confident is the team in the E22?
From what we have seen on the chassis in terms of measurements, particularly on the aero side, it still looks very strong. There is nothing fundamental on the car that will stop it being competitive but we need to get to a sufficient level of mapping and operating the car so that the drivers can extract the maximum from the E22. There are clear, identifiable areas where we can find big chunks of time. Once we have more mileage under our belt and worked on the balance of the car then the drivers will feel more comfortable and we will make good progress.
Does the current workload affect the team’s upgrade programme ambitions?
It makes no real difference. We are still producing new bodywork and have some good upgrades coming for Malaysia in all areas around the car. We will keep pushing as hard as we can with the upgrade programme.
Is there a timeframe where you think the team will start to make significant progress up the grid?
It is difficult to make a strong prediction after the weekend we have just had in Australia, especially with the limited mileage under our belt. I’m certainly hoping for an improvement for Malaysia and then some more in Bahrain, although as they are back to back it is likely to be small steps. It may well be Barcelona before we are in a more stable position and compete at the level we want to be at. One thing’s for certain, we’re not sitting back; we’re pushing all the way with the focus on extracting the maximum from the E22.