Drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean share their thoughts on the United States and what they expect from the Circuit of the Americas, Team Principal Eric Boullier reflects on a memorable weekend in Abu Dhabi and Technical Director James Allison discusses the challenges of preparing for a brand new race venue.
Kimi Räikkönen: “We did it!”
With win No.19 tucked away in Abu Dhabi our very own comeback King looks ahead to another new event in a country he knows and loves
Why do you think the win finally came? "We didn’t give up. We had a period where new developments for the car weren’t working exactly as wanted straight away and when you have to test new parts during practice sessions it’s very difficult to make progress, but we kept pushing.
We continued with the exhaust developments we made during practice in Korea and India and the pace was promising all weekend in Abu Dhabi.
I was never out of the top ten all weekend and with that in mind I think we had a good idea that we could be competitive if we could just get qualifying right, which has been the big issue all season long. This time though, we got it right."
Is it good that you’ve answered that ‘when’s the win coming’ question? "I’ve never cared really what people think – if I don’t finish the next race, then they’ll think that I’m as bad as that race.
I’ll just do my thing, and if I’m happy with what I’m doing and it’s the best it can be for the team, then that’s that. So it doesn’t really bother me if people are thinking differently of me now, than what they did three hours before the race."
How are you looking forward to racing at the Circuit of the Americas? "It will be the third new circuit for me this year and most of all, a brand new place for every team and every driver as well.
Korea and India were both new to me, but I had seen the previous races on TV. I don’t know anything about Austin, just the name Circuit of the Americas.
I have always liked to go to new places as it adds a bit of additional excitement. I’m particularly looking forward to this one. I like the American atmosphere, it’s just a relaxed environment; they know how to have fun and, most of all, they love racing."
What’s your previous experience of racing in the US? "I competed in seven Grands Prix at Indianapolis. Unfortunately the one time I felt I had a really strong car there was in 2005 when only six cars raced and I wasn’t one of them.
I did get pole position in 2003, but none of the races are ones I remember well. Last year I tried NASCAR. I did two races on the Charlotte oval and I really liked it a lot.
That was probably the experience I needed to open my eyes for racing again. After that I really wanted to come back to Formula 1, while it was a tempting idea to do more NASCAR, too.
After seeing the excitement of the American NASCAR fans I hope Formula 1 gets people as eager to enjoy our racing in Texas, too."
You made some comments about radio messages from the pit wall in Abu Dhabi – can we expect something like this in Austin? "Yes, apparently there were a few of our radio messages broadcast on TV and I think in those moments you could hear how much I just wanted to keep my head down, do my job and win the race.
All I needed to know was the gap to the guy behind me. I think you can probably find other messages from me in the car if you search YouTube; even from my short time in NASCAR."
The win came just after you’d been confirmed for 2013; it’s a good endorsement? "It’s a pretty good way to show that everyone’s made the right choice. We’ve shown all season how good we can be, and in Abu Dhabi we showed we can win. There is more to come. I promise."
Romain Grosjean: “The win was unbelievable for the team”
"He’s never been to the States before, so there’s a whole lot more to learn than merely a race circuit, but trackside is where Romain Grosjean’s focus lies."
What’s your experience of the US? I’ve never been to the USA before, not even for a shopping trip to New York! It’s going to be a new experience in many ways.
"In actual fact, I did try to make a quick visit after the Canadian Grand Prix but there wasn’t time in the end. I’m sure it will be a big journey of discovery for me; a new country, a new culture and of course of a new race track which is always something I like to experience."
What do you know about motorsport in the States? "NASCAR is of course very famous, and I think we can learn things from the show that it puts on for all the fans, as it’s very impressive.
The Indianapolis 500 is another event that everybody knows too. I hope that all the fans we meet in Austin are as enthusiastic as seen at these other events."
Lotus F1 Team have been around the circuit with Jérôme – has he told you about it? "I’ve spoken to Jérôme so I have a little idea of what to expect.
I don’t think it will be the easiest circuit to learn and there are a few fast corners which look like they will be a challenge. The first corner certainly looks to be good fun."
This is the first of the third and final back to back pairing over a nine week period to end the season – how gruelling is this schedule? "It has been hard work as we have travelled to a lot of places.
Sometimes you wake up in your hotel and you have to ask yourself which country you are in?! This is the same for the whole team; from the drivers, to the mechanics, engineers, hospitality personnel; everyone.
We’re all looking forward to having a rest at the end of the year, but there are an important two races to go; let’s hope we get some more good points."
The last race didn’t go as you wanted… "For me it wasn’t one of the best days, but for the team it was a fantastic day with the win for Kimi. It was the win we were waiting for and it’s unbelievable for the whole team.
I was running pretty well and could have finished with good points too. Unfortunately Sergio [Perez] returned to the track in the middle of a battle he was having and he wanted to use the part of the track I was on.
There was nothing I could do as you can’t make your car disappear. Sergio was penalised for the incident and it did mean we saw another safety car period. Mark [Webber] was caught up in it too, but he didn’t have any stern words for me this time."
How good was the feeling for the team to finally have a win? "It was unbelievable for the team. It had looked as if the chance of a win was escaping from us, but we’ve kept pushing and the top step was a fantastic reward.
Kimi did a fantastic job. The car is there and although this race wasn’t the one we were expecting to win, we did. Hopefully the good results continue, starting in Austin."
Eric Boullier: “I hope we get used to it very soon”
With the celebrations from Abu Dhabi having subsided, Team Principal Eric Boullier reflects on the achievements of Lotus F1 Team so far and the opportunities which lie in the future.
How was the response to the victory in Abu Dhabi? "I received over four hundred messages at the track after the chequered flag! It was a pleasant surprise to see that a few of them were coming from our rival teams saying how happy they were for us.
It was nice to hear that people in the paddock thought we deserved the victory. Also, standing on the podium as Team Principal of the winning constructor was something really special. It was a very emotional moment. I hope we get used to it very soon."
What was the feeling at Enstone once you returned to the factory? "People are happy and have a new spring in their step; even if the weather outside the factory is very cold now! There’s a fantastic feeling of excitement and we have two races yet to go.
We did it once and we can do it again this season. It took us time to get this win but we all knew that we could do it. It did arrive at a time when more and more people start working on next year’s car, which is good timing."
Is it in some ways an even stronger endorsement of the team for the victory to come so late in the year as it shows Lotus F1 Team can keep the development battle going season-long? "Our team is far from having the biggest budget on the grid, but I see it as an advantage.
It forces us to be clever and it is one of Enstone’s trademarks. Bringing upgrades in October which made our car faster again and catching the best in the sport on pace proves that this team can deliver."
Talking of delivering, Kimi certainly did the business behind the wheel? "This was maybe a surprise for anyone on the outside of the team that doubted him, but for everyone on the inside it was not.
Kimi has certainly made his mark and shown that he’s back in Formula 1 and back at his best form. Having him back getting podiums and a win is great for him, great for the team and great for the fans. Moreover, “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” has already become a Formula 1 classic!"
How difficult was it for you on the pit wall seeing his lead disappear with the safety car then watching Fernando [Alonso] relentlessly hounding him to the end? "It was certainly the longest race of my short Formula 1 career!
The last twenty-two laps in particular were very long. We could see that Kimi had built and was continuing to build a nice gap but the safety car destroyed that.
He built a gap again at the restart, but then Fernando started closing meaning that the last lap was quite scary."
On the other side of the garage can Romain take heart from the pace in the car? "Romain had another learning experience in Abu Dhabi, but he showed that he could deliver well with the strategy we chose after changing tyres following the puncture he received on the first lap. He exited the race because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How does it feel for Formula 1 to be heading back to the States? "We as a team are very happy to be returning to the USA especially as we strongly believe that it’s a market where Formula 1 should be.
We already have some American partners, so it’s good to be racing in their home country. It a land of tremendous opportunity for Formula 1 and we hope to build on this opportunity in the future.
Also, we took part in the opening ceremony of the track two weeks ago, and the buzz it has generated was quite surprising. I’m sure that America likes Formula 1 more than people think."
Fourth in the championship was our target for the season – we now have more than double the points of the fifth-placed team. Is that a good endorsement of where we stand looking ahead to 2013? "Fourth was obviously the target we set ourselves at the start of the year and that’s where we are in the standings right now.
Obviously, you can be fourth and close behind third position, or fourth and just in front of fifth. Our position relative to fifth-placed Mercedes is quite flattering.
Being fourth and fighting with teams like Ferrari and McLaren - by having a win on the board and a number of podiums – has clearly put us in a position where we could develop a stronger image of a team growing and maturing; a team on the up.
This is certainly appealing from a commercial point of view and the numbers of partners joining us this year is a proof of that.
On the other hand, fourth is still fourth, and we know how much harder we need to push in developing our resources and the company to ensure we can break into the top three next year."
James Allison: “Austin provides a much sterner test of the car”
Entering the nineteenth of twenty races in the 2012 season, Technical Director James Allison outlines what’s still to come from the car and why the race in Abu Dhabi came good
How difficult it is heading to a circuit that’s never been raced on before? "It’s certainly more difficult than going to a circuit which we have raced on before! The good thing is that it is a level playing field in that regard – no team has raced on the Circuit of the Americas before.
For the engineers it’s a bit more of a challenge not knowing the peculiarities of the circuit. We know the layout of the track and there are a good number of simulations we can do such as suspension settings, wing levels, gear ratios, but the idiosyncrasies will need to be worked on at the track itself."
What’s the state of play with upgrades? Are there more to come? We are still experimenting with the latest evolution of our Coandă system.
This delivers the same downforce as the one we introduced in Korea and used in the Abu Dhabi race, but does not sap as much power from the engine.
We trialled this evolution in Abu Dhabi, but opted to go for the known quantity of the Korea-spec.
Now we have the young driver test behind us, we are confident that this evolution will assist with around an extra six horsepower for the last two races of the season. We also have a little aero upgrade to the front wing too."
Why did everything come together for the team in Abu Dhabi? "Since we upgraded the car with the Coandă exhaust system in Korea, the E20’s actually been pretty decent.
It maybe hasn’t looked that way in Korea and India as we were trapped behind other people, but the pace of the car in the races has been strong.
In Abu Dhabi, Kimi was making very confident sounding noises before the race as he was happy with the car. What we needed was an adequate result from qualifying to give us half a chance, and then a good start.
We got both of those; Kimi did a cracking lap in qualifying, there was a bit of good fortune with Sebastian [Vettel] going to the back of the grid, then a bit more good fortune by Webber having a poor start.
It was the first race for a long time where we could run the car in free air near the front of the grid and – hey presto – we won the race."
Austin should be at a similar downforce level to Abu Dhabi, so should we do well there? "It’s a similar overall downforce level used on the car, but it’s a very different circuit from the Yas Marina.
There is a much wider range of corner types. Austin has a series of flowing fast corners which doesn’t exist in Abu Dhabi, then there are some slow chicanes which do.
The diversity of corners means that it’s a much sterner overall test of the car. However, if we look at other tracks that test the car in this comprehensive manner, we’ve been pretty good."
How useful was the young driver test? "We were able to evaluate three drivers and get different input for the car which is always useful, but primarily the test allowed us to calibrate our factory based tools we use to assess what is good and what is bad for developing the car.
We were able to measure our simulations against reality by performing correlation tests at the track.
The young driver test gave us a brilliant opportunity to catch up with the backlog of these correlation tests that have built up over the course of the year to make sure that the design direction we’ve taken from our factory-based tools is not leading us astray.
This is valuable as we approach our final two races of the season, but also for design developments heading into next season too."
Lotus F1 Team