Drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado share their thoughts on the challenges of the Australian Grand Prix, while Technical Director Nick Chester and Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi give the latest on the team and on the E23 Hybrid.
Federico Gastaldi – Eager and excited
Lotus F1 Team Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi explains the teamÕs resilient focus for fight back to where it belongs.
How would you describe the team on the cusp of the start of the season? "We’re eager and excited. The Australian Grand Prix represents the start of a new era for us as we embark on a new journey with Mercedes as a partner. We’ve seen positive things through pre-season testing so we can’t wait to be tested in the heat of competition. We have a dedicated team at Enstone who have been working very hard to put the challenges of last year behind us and they’ve created an exciting new car in the E23 Hybrid. We have two race drivers who are very motivated to perform and a great set-up and infrastructure which has enjoyed considerable success in the past. We’re ready to be fighting for points at every turn."
Has the pre-season gone to plan? "We’ve been very pleased with progress. We did miss one day of pre-season testing but once the car hit the track it’s proved reliable and has plenty of potential. Both Romain and Pastor have said they are very happy with the way the car feels and this is crucial for our drivers to be able to deliver their best performance."
What are your expectations for the first race of the year? "I think it’s going to be very exciting and I know that we’ll be fighting for every opportunity. The Australian Grand Prix is a great event, superbly organised, and one which always provides a great spectacle. Melbourne is a fabulous city with warm and welcoming people, so it’s a wonderful place to start the season. In terms of the team performance, we know the package we have, but once we’re in Australia we’ll be able to see how much performance our opposition has too. I don’t think anyone expects to start the season able to beat the reigning champions, but we expect to be fighting hard in the chasing pack!"
What’s the vibe of the team heading to Melbourne? "We’re ready to surprise a few people and show everyone what we can do. We had a somewhat quiet season in terms of results last year, so 2015 is all about getting back to strong results. There’s a strong determination at Enstone and we’re ready to remind everyone of our potential."
How determined are Romain and Pastor? "It’s going to be great to watch our driver pairing this season. It’s Romain’s fourth full season with the team and Pastor’s second season. Both drivers really want to be at the thick end of the action and you can see they’ve both spend their off-seasons training and working hard. In testing it was fantastic to see them both in the car plying their trade once more with smiles from both of them. It’s clear that this year’s car is much better than last year’s and that certainly helps our drivers to do their jobs."
Talking of drivers doing their jobs, what will be the roles of Jolyon and Carmen at Grands Prix? "Jolyon is our Third and Reserve Driver so he’ll be very closely shadowing our race drivers and attending all meetings and briefings so he understands every detail of the race weekend and is ready to stand-in if either of out race drivers can’t race for whatever reason. He will also be running in FP1 sessions later in the year so he needs to be completely up to speed. Carmen’s role sees her going through a development driver programme which means she will attend meetings and work with the team over the weekend to help her understanding of everything required of a Formula 1 driver."
What do you want to see from the team in the first race of the season? "Points would be great! Certainly this is our aim from every race this year. Albert Park can be a difficult mistress as it’s a non-permanent race track and the Melbourne weather can always play tricks on you, but we want to run reliably and show strong pace across the weekend. If I see that and we open our points account I’ll consider that a good start to a new era for Enstone."
Romain Grosjean – In a good place
Heading into his fourth full season with Lotus F1 Team, Romain Grosjean predicts an exciting and intriguing first race of the year at Albert Park.
The season start is with us already – are you ready to go? "I am ready! On the one hand it seems like it was ages since the last race in Abu Dhabi, on the other, it seems like we’ve only just seen the new car and pre-season testing finished so quickly!"
What are your thoughts when you think of Albert Park and the first race of the year? "Albert Park is still one of my favourite Grand Prix circuits, so it will be good to get there and get the season started and there’s always a great atmosphere. It’s a fantastic track and the changing scenery as you drive through the park is incredible. Of course it’s a great country and I always enjoy visiting Australia, although as someone who loves their sleep, I still haven’t found the perfect strategy to counter jet-lag!"
Is it a challenging venue for the first race? "It is, and not only because of the jet-lag! We know it can be a tricky circuit; it’s not a permanent track so the surface and its layout gives us plenty to think about.
We’re still quite early in our understanding of the E23 and how it works so we’ll be kept busy finding the correct set-up and getting everything working as we want it to. The weather can make things pretty difficult too – three years ago we had lots of rain and even had to finish qualifying on Sunday morning! Hopefully the weather will be good this year! You can say that everyone will be in the same position of not knowing what to expect, and with all the car changes I imagine there will be a few surprises! For us the weekend will be maximising the time on track, aiming to finish the race and getting the best result possible."
This will be your fourth full season with the team - what are your goals? "This season will be very much about reminding people how good Lotus F1 Team and Romain Grosjean can be! People have very short memories in Formula 1 and it’s true we had a tough fight for results in 2014 so some people have forgotten the performance we showed in 2013 and 2012. We have a lot more potential for strong results this season so we’ll be pushing to show that at every race, and what better a place or time than at Albert Park?"
Where’s your ‘head at’ coming into the season opener? "I’m in a good place. I’ve had a great winter where I’ve been able to spend time with my wife and son. I’ve done plenty of training. I’ve been at the factory and I’ve been out in the new car so everything’s been going well in the pre-season build-up. I head to Australia very eager to jump in the car and get out on track."
How much change do you expect there to be through the field relative to last season? "Certainly for us there is a lot of change! This time last year we were nowhere, so this year is particularly positive. For sure, we still have work to do and our car’s not perfect, but we have a great platform from which to build and I’m sure we’ll have lots of good developments to come with the E23."
The Australian Grand Prix can be quite an eventful race with numerous incidents over the years: how frustrating will it be if things don’t go to plan? "It’s the nature of motorsport that results don’t always go your way, but we’re approaching this race like any other; trying to achieve the very best result we can. It’s one race in twenty, but it’s always nice to start the season with a strong result, let’s hope we can get that in 2015."
Pastor Maldonado – Stronger than ever
Starting his second season with the squad, our Venezuelan squeeze readily recognises that 2015 offers great potential for strong results in the E23 Hybrid.
How excited are you heading to Australia? "I’m very excited and I can’t wait to start racing again. We have a new car, it’s a new season, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been before, so we’re all eager to get back to action."
How happy are you with the team’s pre-season preparations? "I’m happy with what we’ve learnt this winter, and it’s a completely different situation from last year. We’re much stronger and better prepared for 2015. We’ve done more than 4500km in testing so it’s interesting what we’ve learnt and we’ll be able to put everything into practice in Australia and with the development of the car."
What are your impressions of the E23 Hybrid? "My feeling is this car is much better that last year’s car and not just in one area but with every aspect of the car. Obviously, it’s been good to work with the Mercedes power unit, but that’s just one part as the whole package is very promising and it looks to have good potential for the rest of the year."
What do you think of Australia? "It’s a great country and Melbourne is a wonderful city. It’s just great. I always love races that are close to the city because you have more people coming and it really feels like you are involved and part of their life for the short time you are there. There are all the benefits of the city to appreciate and the fans really get behind the event. It’s maybe one of the best races of the year."
What are the challenges of Albert Park? "To be honest I love the track. The main challenges are that the track surface changes a lot over the weekend, especially from free practice to qualifying. The drivers and engineers need to try to predict how the track is going to evolve, especially for qualifying as this is crucial for the final position on Sunday. Another challenge is the weather as you never know what it will do Ð even during the course of each day."
Where do you expect Lotus F1 Team to be in the pecking order? "Certainly we’ll be in the fight! We’re working hard to improve and we’ve seen that the reigning champions have set a very high standard with their 2015 car. The difference between them and the rest of the field looks quite big after pre-season testing, but behind them the group is getting more compact. There should be a good mix of Williams, Red Bull, Ferrari and us which should make things interesting."
Should the Australian Grand Prix give a good guide for the rest of the year? "In terms of how the car performs, Albert Park is probably not the best gauge as it’s not a permanent race track and it’s unique in many different ways. Certainly, if we go well there we’ll be happy, but if it doesn’t go to plan then that won’t be the end of the world as it’s one of twenty races and it’s a very distinct circuit."
How much potential is there for development of the E23 from its starting point? "It’s quite exciting as it’s our first season with a new power unit supplier so in some respects we’re starting from zero while others are developing more from where they were last year. Our package is much better than last year’s, but against others we have to wait and see; we won’t know where we stand until after the first few races. We’ll try to develop in every way. It’s interesting with the car feeling have improved as well as engine response. A lot depends on how the first few races go, and then we will make developments for the future."
Nick Chester - Cautiously optimistic
For the second season of the current generation of car regulations and first season for Lotus F1 Team with Mercedes power, Technical Director Nick Chester explains the optimism from the team.
How well prepared is Lotus F1 Team heading to Albert Park? "We’re cautiously optimistic. We have what looks to be a solid car, we’ve got the same power unit as the reigning champions - so we know its potential - and we’ve got every opportunity to start the season well."
What have we learnt from the E23 Hybrid in pre-season testing? "We know that the power unit is a big step forward. It has strong performance and response and it’s extremely reliable; we’ve only used one unit throughout testing. The chassis is also a step forward as the drivers can get a lot more from it and it’s easier to drive on the limit as well as being more predictable. We have a great platform from which to develop."
Where have developments with the chassis been focused? "We spent some of the pre-season testing exploring the E23's suspension geometry and it has a lot of effect on the balance of the car in the middle of the slow speed corners. We’re also making the car less sensitive for the drivers so it’s easier to extract performance.
What are the targets for this season and how do you see the team performing relative to the opposition? "Certainly we want to be fighting regularly in the top ten. It’s fair to say it’s going to be very difficult for any team to regularly take the battle to the reigning champions as they were so far ahead of the opposition last year - and they are unlikely to have forgotten what made them fast - but there are still good opportunities. There’s likely to be a good chasing pack, and we expect to be right in the mix with this. We should progress and develop well through the year as we further understand the opportunities offered by the Mercedes power unit."
What are the main differences between this year’s car and its predecessor? "Basically, the power units different, the front of the car’s different and the rear of the car’s different Ð so pretty much all of the car! In terms of the power unit, Its installation is compact and efficient which gives us some benefits, such as the way we’ve organised our cooling system. This, in turn, gives benefits for the packaging at the rear of the car and therefore some aerodynamic benefits. The front of the car is different because of the change in regulations and the air flow at the front of the car obviously has an impact on everything downstream."
Will the car look any different in Melbourne from its appearance in Barcelona? "There will be a few small changes, but nothing drastic. There were new parts coming through testing and we know our preferred options for aero components after working on all the data generated. We expect to bring further new parts from Malaysia onwards."
Pastor had an issue with a braking-related system on the final day of testing - have you got to the bottom of that? "It was something pretty simple and relatively easily diagnosed - basically contamination in a valve affected how the braking system worked. Now we’ve identified this as an issue, we have taken steps to ensure a similar problem doesn’t happen in the future."
How would you summarise our start of the year? "We’re a country mile ahead of where we were this time last year. Our car’s run reliably and the transition to a new power unit supplier has been as seamless as you could wish for. It’s difficult - just as at the start of any season - to say exactly where we stand relative to our opposition, but we’ll have a clearer picture once the first few races have taken place.
Lotus F1 Team