Currently running second in the Drivers’ Championship, Kimi Räikkönen is keen to bolster that points tally, starting at the Shanghai International Circuit…
What are your thoughts on the Shanghai International Circuit? "It’s always difficult to predict what will happen in the next race as we haven’t been there yet with this car, and every car reacts differently to each circuit. Unfortunately we didn’t achieve any points there last year so we can only improve from that.
You’ve gone pretty well in China before; you must have a good feeling going there? "I won there in 2007 and that was a good feeling as it was the year I won the World Championship. I celebrated those wins pretty well at the time. It’s a proper race track and there are good opportunities for overtaking. Our car looks good so far, so let’s see what happens when we get out on track."
Have you been able to reflect much on the first two races of the season? "Australia felt like quite an easy race for me as everything went so well in the car and the result was the one which everyone wants to get. Malaysia was a tough race.
The start was not good and then I lost part of my front wing on the first lap. The car didn’t handle too well after that and with the wet conditions it was pretty tricky. The pace wasn’t too bad, but it could have been much better when you look at our times on Friday."
You had some close tussles in Malaysia, particularly with Nico Hulkenberg… "It was racing and that’s what we’re all here for. There were a few times where it got pretty close. There are things you should and shouldn’t do but this is racing and at the end of the day I don’t think it changed our result too much."
The Chinese Grand Prix was full of action in 2012; how was it from your position? "There was some good racing and it looked like a strong result could have been possible, but we ran out of rubber during the final stint and didn’t score any points. Hopefully we’ll be a little bit more lucky with the tyre performance this time and well prepared from a strategy point of view.
We had the race pace in 2012, that’s true, but we tried to carry on with our tyres for too long. They dropped off, and that was it. On the other hand without trying to push with those tactics, we would never have been fighting for top positions. If you look at last year we didn’t have a bad car for China, and if we get the car working as well as we did on Friday at Sepang, we should do well in Shanghai too."
With two races and a handful of points in the bag so far, Romain Grosjean tells us how there is more to come from the E21, just why he’s looking forward to driving the Shanghai International Circuit, and his aims for the Chinese Grand Prix.
How are you feeling two races into the season? It’s been a little frustrating as I don’t think I’ve shown my full potential yet. The first two races were quite difficult for me and I would really like a weekend where I can show what myself and the team can do this season. We’ve got great potential, I just need to unlock it. Hopefully we’ll find the key in China."
Do you think more was possible in Malaysia? "If we’d had the car we wanted all weekend then yes. Starting further up the grid and making a better start would have helped too, but it’s always easy to say that.
During the race itself I spent a lot of time stuck behind Felipe [Massa] in the middle phase and I’m sure if I could have passed him earlier then I would have stayed ahead, but by the end my tyres were finished so it was best just to let him through without compromising either of our races. There were a couple of times where maybe the backmarkers could have made things a little easier too."
Is the E21 delivering more of what you want from a racing car? "We have definitely made progress. It’s been frustrating for me as sometimes the car gives me what I want and sometimes it doesn’t, even if the conditions and setup are very similar.
I’ve been working closely with my engineers and we made good progress over the last race weekend. The car and the latest tyres seem to be very sensitive to having the balance exactly right so that’s what we’re focusing on."
The team have been bringing new parts to the car; have these been helping? "We’ve been making steps forward with performance and that’s always what you want. The new front wing was beneficial and I’m looking forward to getting the latest exhaust configuration in China. Kimi used it in Sepang and it was definitely of benefit to the car."
You scored your first Formula 1 points last year in Shanghai; is it good to be returning? It was great to get off the mark and it’s always fantastic to score points at a Grand Prix; the more the better! It was a challenging weekend as we didn’t have the car we wanted at the beginning, but we were able to run a different tyre strategy and get a good result. Hopefully there’ll be more points scored this year too.
What do you think of the circuit? "It’s an impressive facility; the first time you see it you realise how big it is. The circuit layout is pretty good and there are some nice challenges like increasing radius corners and turns with a bit of banking. There are more slower speed corners than we’ve had at the last couple of races and there’s a big straight too, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied."
What would you like to achieve in China? "I would like to score strong points. I finished in tenth in Australia, then sixth in Malaysia so I’d be quite happy if I finish in second place in Shanghai. That or a win would make me very happy! Let’s see how the car is once we arrive on track and hope there won’t be rain again as we know our car does struggle a little in wet conditions."
The Malaysian Grand Prix may not have yielded the desired result, but Team Principal Eric Boullier is satisfied with what he's seen so far in 2013 and predicts more to come...
What are your thoughts now you’ve had some time to reflect on the first two races? "Australia was fantastic in terms of the race win and Kimi’s performance. For Romain, it was a more difficult weekend and we’ve been working hard to improve things for him; the results of which were seen in Malaysia where he had a much better race, even if it was quite a difficult weekend overall.
As a team we faced a tough event which exposed one of our weaknesses; namely our performance when the conditions are wet. That said, when you take into account our qualifying positions and the difficult start for both drivers I think the points we took for sixth and seventh is a solid result.
We didn’t see the full potential of the car, and the time we lost at the start was always going to be difficult to catch up."
What have you made of Romain’s performances so far this season? "Romain hasn’t been able to get the car immediately to his liking and that is never beneficial for a driver. He’s compared with Kimi, who has a tremendous amount of experience at knowing what he wants from the car and how to get it.
Whilst Romain struggled in Australia, we saw a strong drive from him in Sepang. He was unlucky in qualifying as his single lap pace looked good, but then of course the rain took away his chance of making Q3.
During the race he managed the strategy well, raced hard, and I think he also demonstrated that the work he’s done over the winter has paid off. He has proven that we can count on him."
Team orders; what's your view? "Team orders are part of the sport. You have two main strategies to run a team. You might favour one driver, clearly stating ‘driver number one’ and ‘driver number two’ if your target is chasing the Drivers’ Championship title.
Alternatively you have both drivers equal, as this is the way you want to go racing, meaning the team holds a lot of importance. The team gives both drivers the same cars, the same conditions, the same performance, but there is a commitment from the team to the drivers.
In that case I can understand team orders, because you are working for the team, not for the drivers; they are working for you. Sometimes it seems that emotion takes over, but don't forget that the drivers are paid to work for you, as they are for the company.
I don't see any people in the world who could disobey their company and not be sanctioned, or at least give clarification as to why they’ve disobeyed."
Have you ever been in that position with drivers potentially disobeying orders? "Yes, it happens because of the adrenaline and excitement of winning a race, but I think in Formula 1 it should not happen. Firstly, we should not have team orders so early in the season; not while the championship is at such an early stage.
When it happens you need to fix it and fix it quickly. Yes, one of our drivers if famous for doing pretty much what we wants, but when you have 600 people behind you, there is a certain respect you must have for the team."
It's the strongest start to the season we've had since you've been in charge; how are you feeling? "It's still early days; as usual we'll wait to see how the first four races go before we can predict anything and when we're back to Europe we'll have a better idea of where we are and what we can achieve."
How are Kimi and Romain looking from your point of view? "We have a Kimi who is happy to be back racing, completely up to speed after a full year since his return and clearly chasing the Championship.
At the same time we have a Romain who has come back from a tough 2012 and has built himself over the winter - he's now facing the challenge of putting that into practice, but he's doing well."
The team looked promising last year in Shanghai; what are your thoughts heading into race three of the season? "First of all, I think we can take some positives from Malaysia. We’ve made a step forward with the car in terms of single lap pace, but still the race pace looks strong as well.
For China, Romain will have the upgraded exhaust and bodywork package which Kimi ran in Malaysia, plus there will be a few additional parts arriving so it’s going to be quite interesting.
Coming away from a race feeling like sixth and seventh is a bad result for the team shows how far we’ve come, so we’ll keep pushing and with a normal weekend I’m sure we can expect some stronger results."
After a weekend which flattered to deceive in Malaysia, Technical Director James Allison gives us the lowdown on wet weather woes, setup solutions and why the great tyre debate makes for pleasurable reading.
Melbourne and Sepang have some similar characteristics; how does Shanghai differ? "China presents quite a different challenge to the last two circuits. Melbourne has a lot of medium speed corners with relatively few at either end of the scale, while Sepang has a reasonable spread; perhaps slightly biased towards the more high speed corners than average.
Shanghai by contrast has almost no high speed corners, featuring predominantly low speed ones with a smattering of medium. Some of the lower speed corners are also extended in their radius, even with tightening arcs. This provides quite a stern test for the tyres, as you have a significant excess of torque over grip making it very easy to wreck a set of rear tyres rather quickly.
It’s generally quite cool in Shanghai as well – unseasonably so last year – meaning that graining will be an issue once again; particularly given the smoothness of the asphalt which is comparable to that of Melbourne.
From what we’ve learned so far the E21 is reasonable in conditions where graining is rife, so we’re hoping for more of the same in China."
2012 saw Kimi’s race unravel late on; what was this down to? Last year we ran a strategy which saw our drivers make one stop fewer than the rest of the field. In the end this proved a bridge too far for Kimi, largely down to the fact that he tends to be fractionally harder on his front tyres than Romain.
As it turned out this race was a bit of a graining fest for the fronts, which was unfortunate as prior to that point he was sitting quite pretty in that race."
A few teams have suggested that this year’s tyres are too big a step from those of 2012; would you agree? Not really; they’re just one step softer all round than last year and the new construction makes it harder to access the rubber on the inner corner of the tyre.
In other words, the available rubber is reduced as it’s very tricky to get the entire width of the tyre in contact with the road. Certain teams are keen for a switch back to last year’s rubber, but teams will always push for what’s in their best interest.
We feel the current tyres makes for entertaining racing, but then we would say that as our car tends to prosper when the tyres are tender."
The inclement conditions in Malaysia weren’t in our favour; where do we stand on that? "The result in Sepang was obviously not what we were looking for, but that can largely be attributed to being half a minute down after seven laps. I have to be completely candid and say that wet weather is not our forte.
We struggle to get the intermediate tyres warm enough to grip the road, and our current rear wing configuration for – whilst aerodynamically stable in wet conditions – does not generate the sort of downforce levels required for a wet track. Unfortunately we will be fighting an uphill battle with this until we bring a new, higher downforce rear wing to the track."
Romain showed marked improvement over the weekend in Malaysia; is he now happier with the car? "Romain started off the weekend with a setup that was far too oversteer biased, but through gradually moving towards greater levels of understeer he became significantly more comfortable in the car; subsequently putting in a very good race performance.
As mentioned previously, these tyres really do reward a well-balanced car, but the format of a race weekend places sufficient time constraints to make finding that sweet spot a challenge.
In Melbourne we didn’t quite manage to find the zone with Romain, but by the end of the week in Malaysia we had it much more to his liking and he subsequently rewarded us with a sterling drive."
Do we have any upgrades planned for China? "We’ll be upgrading Romain to the latest spec exhaust and related bodywork as run by Kimi in Malaysia. We also have a few small tweaks to the front wing, rear wind endplates and sidepod vanes.
One of the benefits gained from the new exhaust package is an increase in rear downforce through corners where the ratio of exhaust speed to car speed is high, which tend to be the lower speed corners.
This is a good step forward which we hope will aid us in protecting the tyres at this kind of circuit."
Lotus F1 Team