Lotus preview the Japanese Grand Prix
After a Singapore Grand Prix probably best forgotten, Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi is looking forward as well as answering some of the questions of the moment.
The team has just confirmed Pastor for 2016. What can you tell us about this?
Federico Gastaldi: We have an existing multi-year deal with Pastor so it was time to publically confirm he will be driving with us as part of this deal in 2016. Whilst it is true that Pastor has experienced a difficult season in 2015, from working with him we know his strengths very well. This year has certainly been a trying season for many reasons, but Pastor is always positive and always delivering to the best of his ability. He is a pleasure to work with and we will both benefit from the continuity of the relationship continuing into its third season.
What’s the current situation with Romain?
FG: We expect an announcement about Romain’s future will be made very soon too. It’s a case of watch this space.
What’s your evaluation of the race weekend in Singapore?
FG: It was a race weekend which showed the depth and strength of character of everyone at Enstone. We struggled for pace early in the weekend but dug deep and were able to fight back. We attacked the race with a strategy designed to work us up the order and go for any points. Ultimately, it didn’t work for Pastor or Romain on this occasion, but it is a measure of the team that we never give up.
What can you tell us about developments at Enstone?
FG: Certainly circumstances are forcing us to pursue a rather unusual approach to this season but we’re getting near to a resolution. Certainly, we have been subject to an unbelievable amount of scrutiny and it’s impossible to speak to five different people in the paddock without getting five different versions of what might be about to happen! There’s no point trying to dance faster than the music!
How much is the team looking forward to racing in Japan?
FG: Competitively, we can’t wait as it’s the first opportunity to put our no points score in Singapore behind us and get back into our championship fight. Then there’s the aspect of racing in Japan itself. There is a huge appetite for motorsport so it’s really a special experience being there. We have the added stimulus that Honda has re-joined the sport after a period away. Whilst we have all seen they have experienced some growing pains in their first season back, we all know the amazing motorsport history they have and it’s good for Japan and good for Formula 1 to have them competing. The Japanese fans are among the most special in terms of their knowledge and devotion to the sport. So it is very important for us to be racing here and also to have a good weekend on the track. The whole nation of Japan gets tuned in to the F1 groove and it is good for the country and for F1. Suzuka is also a great challenge for the drivers and they will be hungry to deliver. Like Spa, Monaco and Silverstone, I don’t think anyone dislikes going to Suzuka. It has everything that makes F1 great; an incredible track, great fans and somewhere that the drivers and engineers really learn a lot about the car. For many reasons, we all hope to be able to enjoy a sake after a positive Japanese Grand Prix in 2015.
Romain Grosjean gets excited about what is probably his favourite Formula 1 race track, Suzuka
Why do you love the Japanese Grand Prix so much?
Romain Grosjean: Suzuka is probably my favourite track in the world and for many, many reasons. Of course 2013 holds a great memory as I led the race for a while. Mainly I love it so much because the track is a massive challenge and also the spectators are so passionate about F1. There is not a single corner on the track that is not a big challenge. When you finish a lap at Suzuka you really appreciate it because you know the car and you have been really tested and that you can be proud if you have got the maximum from everything.
What are the specific challenges of Suzuka?
RG: It’s the kind of track where you find time and improvements, however small, all of the time. It is a very special race track in this respect. Sector one is unbelievable and after you have finished it you can breathe a little bit…but not for long. There is no margin for error with very little run-off area and the track is quite narrow, especially at the top of the hill. I love it. Every metre of the Suzuka track is special and every metre a challenge. The Spoon Curve is especially fantastic, a real thrill to drive in an F1 car.
Where is best for overtaking opportunities at Suzuka?
RG: There are a few good areas like the first corner, but only if you get a good exit from the last chicane. But probably the best one is in to the chicane itself, after the long back straight and 130R. If you get a tow here you can get inside under braking. There is also a small chance at the hairpin and maybe in to Spoon Curve too, but you have to be brave and usually rely on the guy in front to co-operate. Suzuka is quite a narrow track so it is not that easy to overtake, but it is a great challenge and very satisfying when you manage to execute one.
What about the whole experience of being in Japan?
RG: You have to mention the fans. They certainly are special and unique. Suzuka is probably the only place we go to where you arrive at the track on a Thursday and the grandstands are almost full! They replay the race afterwards once, twice, three times and the fans stay at the track until we have gone home. They are brilliant fans, very loyal and knowledgeable about the sport. It is in their culture now and you can’t imagine a Grand Prix not happening in Japan. We have to have a race there anyway because I like to receive my mini-Romain every year from the fans. Fantastic!
How do you think the circuit will suit the E23?
RG: Suzuka is a track that highlights the good aspects of a chassis and it will certainly be a better place to exploit the positives of the E23 than Singapore. At Suzuka the driver can make a difference to some extent, especially through sector one, so I will be pushing very hard here to get the very maximum we can.
What’s your overview of the Singapore Grand Prix?
RG: We tried a strategy which didn’t work. That’s the easy thing to say afterwards, and if it had worked we’d have been pretty happy. We worked well as a team over the weekend to improve the car and qualifying was pretty rewarding after some tough sessions earlier. The race was pretty hard, but we did everything we could but sadly it didn’t work for us. I hope we’re in the right position for a good collection of points in Japan.
When can we expect an announcement about you and 2016?
Pastor Maldonado talks about the confirmation he continues with Lotus F1 Team for 2016 as well as the challenge and fun of the Suzuka circuit
Congratulations on the confirmation of your continuation with the team, this must help you focus more on the rest of the season?
Pastor Maldonado: It’s one less thing for my management team to worry about. It’s true that we did have a contract for next year but as we’ve seen before, Formula 1 is sometimes not too friendly towards contracts. It’s great for the team to be able to confirm their faith in me and I’m really looking forward to continuing our relationship and racing with them for a third season. Before that we have another six races to go in 2015 so that’s my focus now, starting with Suzuka this weekend.
How much do you look forward to racing in Japan?
PM: Very much indeed. It is always nice to know you are going to be challenged by a circuit. If everything gets hooked-up then Suzuka is a pleasure. I really hope we can have a good weekend because at Suzuka it makes it even more of a pleasure to get it right. I think that for a driver it is at least comparable with Spa, maybe even better on some corners. I just love racing at Suzuka and indeed in Japan as a whole.
What are the highlights of driving a lap at Suzuka?
PM: There are so many. The start of the lap is incredible with the sweeps up the hill, right-left-right-left. It is really fast and you need a very good and nimble car to change direction quickly. They are really challenging corners where you need maximum concentration and bravery. The run-off is quite small, so it is really satisfying to get them right. When I first drove this track in 2011 it was a big deal for me because I knew that I could find a lot more time in the car. The corners are like this because you never get them 100% right the first time, you learn and learn which is what a great race track should be like I think. Then you have the Spoon Curve which is magnificent and 130R which is still challenging despite being flat-out now. All in all a great, great circuit and with some really steep gradients too. Almost a perfect track!
What is the best memory you have from Suzuka?
PM: Well apart from the first time I actually drove the circuit, it was when I had a really good race in 2012. I qualified down in 14th but managed to overtake quite a few and get some points for eighth position. I remember having a good fight with Nico Hülkenberg in the Force India all race long.
How do you evaluate your Singapore Grand Prix?
PM: If you look at where we started we did make good progress through the field and looked to have some good opportunities. Unfortunately, after the contact from Jenson my rear diffuser was damaged and the downforce helps work the tyres better. This meant we weren’t able to preserve the tyre performance as long as we hoped and we made an additional pit stop. It was a good race from the car, with some fun battles.
Jenson wasn’t happy with the contact?
PM: No driver’s happy if there’s a car in front of them and they want to get past, especially if it damages their car trying to overtake. We both got damage to our cars; he was behind me trying to get past, I was defending my position. That’s racing, The stewards reviewed it and determined that there was no further action necessary.
Technical Director Nick Chester looks at the challenges of Suzuka as well as further afield
Suzuka is a very distinct circuit – what are the challenges?
Nick Chester: The challenges are the high speed corners. You can’t run maximum downforce in Suzuka – as you will end up a little too slow on the straights – so you need to give the driver sufficient downforce to give confidence in the fast twisty bits whilst not clipping their wings down the straights. This is part of the reason why Suzuka is such a driver favourite, as drivers can be absolutely on the limit without the car totally stuck to the ground through maximum downforce. It’s not just having sufficient downforce, it’s ensuring that this is delivered in a balanced nature. Getting the suspension set-up spot on is essential here too. You need to extract all the grip that’s possible from the car.
What were the issues the team faced in Singapore?
NC: Street courses can often be pretty particular in their demands and that’s something we saw in Singapore. We knew it wasn’t going to be one of the easiest races of the year for us, but we did have to really work hard to get to the best pace we could with the E23. We didn’t get the tyres into their working window at the right time early on in the weekend and we also had all the usual street course challenges. Romain – in particular – with his engineers were able to make some subtle and positive changes to get him into the top ten for qualifying which was rewarding for all.
How did the race itself play out?
NC: Both drivers did terrific jobs out on track which is always very pleasing to see, even when you don’t get the ultimate result you want. With the pace of the car and the starting positions, we had to try quite aggressive strategies. This was particularly the case with Romain after he lost positions at the start meaning we brought forward his stops to undercut and gain track position. Unfortunately this meant we missed out on a quick pit stop under the virtual safety car at the first stop. We suffered worse tyre degradation than expected on Romain’s final stint which cost us in the last few laps. Pastor made up positions from his start but was compromised later on after the damage sustained from Jenson. It was certainly an interesting race and a challenging one on the pit wall.
Pastor continues with the team next year, what does this mean for preparations?
NC: Pastor is a great person to work with and you always benefit from continuity. It’s true that for various reasons Pastor’s first two seasons with the team haven’t been the easiest, so we’re looking forward to working with him in what has potential to be a much more settled environment. We’ll certainly be looking to have a stronger season in every regard in 2016.
Do you expect Romain will be partnering him again next year?
NC: We know Romain has made his decision and we will all know soon.
The Japanese GP is the second race of a back-to-back pairing; how does that affect preparations?
NC: It does make for a busy week with the added challenge of the crew changing their body clocks to local time after fighting the urge to do that for the night schedule of Singapore. Fortunately, both locations are relatively straight-forward to work in so there aren’t additional challenges like you have in Monaco for instance. Our set-up crew is well versed at packing-up and building-up the garages and rest of the infrastructure we have, but certainly they have busy few days with the back-to-backs.