Q&A with Vitaly Petrov
The 26-year-old Russian looks ahead to his second year of Formula 1 as he aims to build on a character-building 2010 season.
Vitaly, you're entering your second season of Formula 1 as a Lotus Renault GP driver. How does it feel?
I'm really proud to be here and I hope together we can achieve some great things. The team has shown a lot of faith in me and it's my chance to show everybody that they were right to believe in me.
Do you feel ready to deliver?
Everybody knows that 2010 was not that easy for me, but after a year in Formula 1 I feel more confident and ready to face the challenge of 2011. I know what I need to change, where I can improve and I'm determined to do well and fight hard for this team.
You're no longer a rookie and you've seen how Formula 1 works. Will that change your approach this season?
2010 was a long season and I learned a lot, so it's natural that I will come back with more experience and as a better driver. I now understand how difficult Formula 1 is on every level and I know that even a small mistake can have a big impact on your weekend. My focus this year is to make sure I put everything together, maximise all the sessions and stay concentrated all weekend long.
What do you think about the new rule changes that have been introduced this year?
I think it's good for Formula 1 and I know that the team has been working for a long time to make sure we get the most from the new technology on the car. For me it will be more things to learn and adapt to because I've never used KERS before and the adjustable rear wing is new for everyone. But I think the biggest challenge is getting used to the new tyres and a big part of winter testing will be trying to understand them. I think this is the biggest task facing the team.
What goals do you have in mind this season?
That's always a very difficult question to answer, especially before the start of winter testing. And even when you start testing, it's difficult to know who is really the strongest and how you compare. It's only when we get to the first race in Bahrain that we will find out who has done the best job over the winter. So it's difficult for me to set objectives until we know the facts.
How have you prepared for the new season?
I went home to Russia for a holiday with my family and friends. It was a chance to simply relax and switch off for a while. Then, I started doing some training, things like football and even some cross-country skiing to maintain my fitness. At the start of January I moved to England and I've been spending a lot of time in Enstone with the team. I think this is important because it helps strengthen my relationships with the engineers, mechanics and the people around me. By living near the factory and being there during the week, I hope that I can be as prepared as possible for the new season.
Q&A with Robert Kubica
Robert talks about his excitement for the season and reveals his thoughts on the new regulations.
Robert, the new season is just over a month away. How excited are you about the challenge that awaits you?
After a long winter break you always feel ready to jump back in the car and I'm really looking forward to this season. As well as my car having new colours, there are some big changes to the regulations, such as the removal of double diffusers, the introduction of adjustable rear wings and new Pirelli tyres. So there are a lot of new things to get used to before the first race, but we will do our best to be as ready as we can for the start of the season.
This is your second season with this team. Does that make it easier to extract the maximum from yourself and the car?
Obviously when you join a team everything is new and you have to get to know the people and how they operate. So it's good that we don't have to worry about that this year because I know what to expect. That will make it easier to concentrate on extracting the maximum from the car and trying to improve performance.
How different do you think the sport will be in 2011 as a result of all the rule changes?
I think it will be quite a bit different, but I wouldn't say it will be more challenging because taking an F1 car to the limit is always a challenge. The drivers will definitely be busier with KERS and the adjustable rear wing, but it probably won't be any more difficult than last year when we had to operate the f-duct. In fact, it will be good to have both hands back on the steering wheel for a change! We will certainly have to concentrate hard during the first few days of testing to understand the new systems, but I'm sure we will soon get used to them and everything will become automatic.
Is the adjustable rear wing something that excites you as a driver?
I think it's clear it will create the opportunity for more overtaking, which is good for Formula 1 and the show, but we need to be careful that it does not give too much advantage to the car behind. If we see overtaking on every lap of the race because the wing is giving too much advantage, then I don't think this will be exciting. The other thing we have to think about is the gear ratios because it will be a big challenge to find the ideal settings, especially for sixth and seventh gears. Even if you find a good setting for qualifying, when you can use the wing as much as you want, you also need to find a good compromise for the race, when its use is restricted.
How difficult will it be to get through the workload during winter testing to be ready for the first race?
It's never easy because the number of days we have for testing is limited, but I think there is just enough time to be ready for Bahrain. It all depends on how well things go in the early tests and you have to hope there are no big surprises that cost you time on track. Also, with so many changes this year, the task facing us is bigger than in previous years and understanding KERS, the rear wing and the new tyres will need a lot of laps. In fact, learning about the tyres will be the most time-consuming of all because you need to run each compound in different conditions and with different fuel loads, and there is so much to discover. I have my fingers crossed for a good, smooth start to testing so that we can begin performance work as soon as possible.
What are your hopes and expectations for the year ahead?
My aim, as always, is to deliver a good and consistent performance across the year. That is the goal for any driver. At the moment it's difficult to know just how competitive our package will be, but the engineers have decided to go for an innovative design, which is good. Also, we had a strong season last year and we hope to move forward again this year and be closer to the front. That means we will have to race against teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull, and we know this will not be easy, but we will be working hard to make sure we can be part of that fight.
Q&A with James Allison
James, tell us about the R31 and how it varies from its predecessor...
Words like 'aggressive' and 'innovative' are very much in vogue in Formula 1 at the moment, but where the R31 is concerned we feel that those adjectives are appropriate. It's true to say that the car has been designed in an ambitious manner and a quick glance at the layout will confirm that its entire concept differs considerably, not just from last year's car, but from any car this team has ever produced. Those changes represent our attempt to extract the absolute maximum aerodynamic performance from the regulations, which have changed quite significantly for this year, and to further develop the concept of using the exhausts to blow the floor.
So it's fair to say the R31 is a significant step forward compared to the R30?
It is very difficult to compare the two cars in a meaningful way. 2011 is a different year with a new set of regulations and that's why the R31 is a very different car. For example, KERS is back this year and the car has been completely re-engineered to accommodate that system in an efficient way. We've also chosen to change the layout of our rear suspension by opting for a pull rod system for the first time in decades. And, as I said before, anyone can see that the treatment we have given to some specific areas is completely new compared with anything we have done previously. All of those things are aimed at trying to maximise the R31 under the 2011 rules.
How has the team handled the design and build phase of the new car -- has it been a relatively straightforward winter?
It's never straightforward -- that's the honest answer -- but it has been made particularly tricky this year by having major additional components, such as KERS and the adjustable rear wing to incorporate as well. Developing the wing, for example, added considerable workload in the design and production stages, rather than simply making a refinement of the previous year's design. It meant starting with a completely clean sheet of paper. The same was true of the areas around our exhaust system where we had to begin from scratch.
What more can you tell us about the adjustable rear wing and how it will affect the cars...
The straight-line speed gain from adjusting the wing will not be the same for all cars and whoever gets the most benefit will depend on who has designed the most efficient version. Every team will be looking for a wing that delivers the optimum compromise of downforce in the corners, while shedding the maximum drag down the straights -- the better your wing can do that, the better your lap time will be in qualifying and the more competitive you will be in racing conditions. In terms of how powerful it is, the gains from adjusting the rear wing will be more significant than the gains we saw last year using f-ducts. But, like the f-duct, it's far from straightforward aerodynamically and we've spent a great deal of time in CFD and the wind tunnel to make sure our concept delivers the best compromise.
Where do you think the R31 will sit in the pecking order when the season gets underway?
With every season that goes by, the professionalism of the teams that are competing becomes even more intense. There are many teams that know how to produce a good car and we're under no illusion about the scale of the challenge facing us in 2011. I think that last year we perhaps exceeded the expectations of some people in the pit lane, but we certainly didn't outperform our own expectations. While we were happy to be moving back in the right direction, we would be frustrated if we started 2011 operating at the same performance level we showed last year. That means we want the R31 to be competitive right from the off and in with a chance of scoring podiums or better from the first race. Considering the tremendous effort that has gone in at all levels to produce this car, that would be a fitting reward for all concerned.
Q&A with Eric Boullier
The Team Principal and Managing Director pays tribute to the efforts behind the scenes over the winter and looks ahead to the challenge facing the team in 2011.
Eric, the start of the 2011 season is just over a month away. How excited are you about the year ahead?
I think there is a great deal to be excited about this year, especially as we begin an important new era for this team. 2010 was a useful year; a time to rebuild and prepare for the future, but at the same time everybody in the team put in an amazing amount of effort and we saw the results of that on the racetrack. Now, with the arrival of a long-term partner in Group Lotus, we have the financial stability to build on these strong foundations and ensure a very competitive future. That is incredibly motivating for everybody in the team and gives us all the belief that we can continue to compete at the sharp end of the grid with the strongest teams in the sport. Over the last twelve months, we have all worked so hard to prepare for 2011 and I'm incredibly proud of what we have achieved and looking forward to getting the season underway.
The winter months building the new car are always some of the busiest of the year -- how has the factory handled the creation of the R31?
In fact, Formula 1 never stops. With the R31, work started before the R30 had even done a single race. In 2010 we achieved a very high rate of development and the car that finished the season was two seconds per lap quicker than the car we had at the first race. During the winter, that same determined approach to the workload has continued, which is a testament to the spirit and commitment of the people we have in this team. Yes, the workload is huge at this time of year, but if we keep our heads down and maximise the winter test sessions, I'm pretty sure we will have a strong start to 2011.
Can the team repeat last year's high development pace in 2011?
The plan is to take exactly the same approach to development this year, although our expectation is to start the season in a much stronger position. That means we will have to be even more creative and will look to investigate some new technical areas that we have not examined before. But technical innovation isn't the only key to performance and over the last 12 months we have reviewed all our internal processes and left no stone unturned. Today we can say that our overall efficiency has improved by 15%.
The team is fielding an unchanged driver line-up. How important is that stability for taking the team forward?
Stability is important in any industry and especially in the very fast-moving Formula 1 environment, which is intensively competitive on every level. Having stability in our drivers is one of the key elements in bringing this team back to full competitiveness. It will allow us to capitalise on what we learned last year. The new management, the drivers, the engineers and mechanics have all been working together for a year now and have spent that time understanding each other. Now is the time when we can capitalise on that bond and team spirit, which will only make us stronger.
What do you think Robert and Vitaly are capable of achieving in 2011?
Our driver line-up is still a mixture of talent, experience and youth. Robert is clearly one of our strongest assets and we know we can rely on his speed, commitment and dedication for the long term. As for Vitaly, he showed us at the end of last year that he understands what we expect of him in 2011 and he was ready to commit to this. With a year's experience behind him, he will be able to approach the new season with more confidence and is ready to help the team raise its game. We took the risk of investing in him last year and I'm sure we will see the benefit of that this year.
Are you confident the team can take a significant step forward and challenge for wins in 2011?
We live to race and our goal is to win. It's the core of our philosophy. All the hard work over the last twelve months has been focussed on delivering a big improvement for 2011, and that means we should be more competitive than last year. Will we be stronger than our competitors? Hard to say, but based on the efforts of everybody here, I feel we deserve it.