MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW DRIVER QUOTES–
Daniel Ricciardo: Despite the eventual outcome in Melbourne, I still feel really good about my performance in the race and throughout the weekend. Obviously it would be nice to get the 18 points, but I’m happy that I still stood on the podium and that was a great feeling. I know I did a good job and I can take that with me to the next race in Malaysia. One thing you have to take into account there is the heat. I first drove at Sepang when I was 16 in a four-day Formula BMW test and you couldn’t really say I was prepared for it! ! Until you’ve experienced the heat in the cockpit, it isn’t something you can fully appreciate, no matter what people tell you. I was drinking six litres of fluid a day and I still suffered. It’s something you prepare for better as you come back again and again, though it’s still one of the most physically-challenging races. If you’re not correctly prepared then the last 20 laps of a grand prix will be difficult and the physicality of the race can hit your concentration in those latter stages. And so you train, train and train! The race is back to back with Bahrain. I’m not certain what effect two weeks of pre-season testing there is going to have when we race there. Everyone’s had a bit of a chance to get their set-up dialled in, so that may bring the field closer together. The circuit isn’t one of my favourites, as you can’t get a brilliant flow there, but there are a couple of technical turns to put us drivers and the cars through our paces. The RB10 surprised us in Australia by being more competitive than we thought in the dry and the wet, so let’s see what the next two races brings
Sebastian Vettel: We still have a lot of work to do with the car but it was encouraging to see that our pace was better than expected in Australia – hopefully we can build on that and start collecting some strong points in the next two races. Next stop is Kuala Lumpur, which I like as a city. Downtown can sometimes seem sterile, but then you turn a corner and the streets burst into life with the night markets. Whenever I have time I try to go there and see what they have to offer. Looking to the track, the two overtaking possibilities are the first corner and before the last corner, which in both cases is after a long straight; my favourite corners are five and six. Beside the challenge of the circuit, you have to cope with the tropical heat. We can be driving in humidity of up to 90%, while big thunderstorms in the afternoon are not uncommon. From there we go to Bahrain, where we’ve recently been for winter testing, so it will feel quite familiar and after the high humidity in Malaysia it will be nice to go to dry heat. Because the circuit is in the middle of the desert, sand can be blown up in the wind on to the racing line. The circuit has a nice combination of fast, slow and medium corners and is pretty technical to drive. I also like the rosewater they have instead of champagne!
Romain Grosjean – Heat, humidity and the usual rain storms
Although clearly not happy with the frustrations of getting his race car where he wants it to be in the shortest possible time, Romain Grosjean is quick to see the positives and potential as Lotus F1 Team heads to the second race of the 2014 season in Sepang, Malaysia, this weekend.
What will be the main challenges at Sepang?
The first challenge in Malaysia will be the heat, humidity and usual rain storms at 4pm! For us as a team, the target is to move forwards and improve. The race in Melbourne was basically a good, long test. It wasn’t easy for the guys but I’m happy we did a lot of laps in the race. We gathered some useful data and we will now improve using that data. The aim now is to have a straightforward weekend at Sepang, working through our proper schedule in free practice, then carrying the benefits from that over to qualifying and the race. Sepang is one of my favourite circuits and I’m looking forward to it.
There was a big step up on race day in Australia. Does that give you faith that more progress could follow?
Whenever we solve a problem we make a big step forward, whether it is with set-up, the engine or any other developments. We’ve seen this happen with other teams too. We are feeling greedy at the moment. We want to keep making big progress like in Australia, not just one or two tenths, but big chunks of time and of course better reliability. We’ll prioritise and work as hard as we can to achieve that. The mechanics definitely deserved a rest after Australia though. They worked long hours all weekend and still did some of the fastest pit stops in the race. The guys were excellent and with a work ethic like that there is no reason why we won’t get on top of this car soon and exploit the huge potential of the E22.
How different is the driving experience in a Grand Prix now after the technical changes?
It is not quite as pleasant as before to be honest. There is a lot of energy recovery to deal with and optimise. You cannot drive most of the Grand Prix at 90 per cent as before, sometimes now it is only 30 per cent. We just have to get used to it. When you win you love it and when you retire, you don’t. At the moment it feels a little frustrating as a driver but these are the rules, we will adapt and make the best of them.
We saw quite a bit of drama in Australia, how do you think the season will progress?
It will not be easy for anyone. We have seen some of the favourites going out or having problems and others that we were not expecting to be up there make an impression. It’s a bit unpredictable at the moment and not easy to know where everyone stands. I think Mercedes is looking good, as is McLaren. Our task is to get up there and amongst them.
What did you learn in Australia?
That we still have a lot of work to do! Other than the early finish, the Australian Grand Prix was positive. We learned more about the car in 44 racing laps than during the whole of winter testing! The team has done so much work and each of the changes have been in the right direction. It was looking good in the race and then we had the same problem as Pastor: the MGU-K shaft. But at least there is no mystery about what happened and we are working with Renault Sport F1 to solve the problem.
Overall we are happy with the chassis, the aero balance for the changing fuel load, the driveability of the engine and the fuel economy. Of course there is work to do with energy management and recovery and we know Renault Sport F1 is responding to this. On our side we know more about the set-up and the direction we must go in order to make the car better. Braking for example was not perfect, but that is also to do with the tyres. The new tyres are really hard and their handling characteristics have changed. We are not getting the best out of them yet, but we will. There are plenty of areas for us to play with, but we now have a clear base set-up for Malaysia.
Pastor Maldonado – Whatever it takes
With his Lotus F1 Team Grand Prix debut completed, Pastor Maldonado looks forward to the challenge of one of the toughest races of the season.
What are your thoughts looking to Sepang?
Sepang is a good track and I really like the challenges it presents us with. It’s very interesting from the car point of view, especially the aerodynamics, but also the tyres because the asphalt is very aggressive. Hopefully this event will go more smoothly for us compared with Australia. We know we need to work very hard to achieve our aims and objectives for the E22. We know where our main focus lies and as a team we are determined to get there.
The weather can be quite interesting at Sepang…
We know the weather at Sepang can change a lot; in fact it is usually either extreme heat or extreme rain, so very tropical and we’ll need to be ready for everything. Also the extreme temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability and from the driving point of view it is quite stressful as well. All round, I would say Sepang is one of the toughest races of the year. We’ll need to be strong in all areas.
How much were you able to learn from your laps in Australia?
A lot. It was the longest stint I’ve done so far and that’s very important for the engineers who can now work through the data and find improvements. Naturally, our immediate priority is to finish the races, but in Formula 1 you never stop searching for more pace as well.
There was a lot of progress made during the Australian Grand Prix. Does that give you faith more progress will follow?
Yes, the whole weekend was pretty incredible. To be honest I’ve never seen anything like it. We started nowhere and we kept on having problems. With these cars, even little problems can take a very long time to fix. Some of the problems are very difficult to diagnose as they are electronic or software related. These all require so much time and focus. The efforts put in by everyone at Lotus F1 Team were amazing. Especially from the mechanics at the track, who worked all day and night, more than 24 hours straight, then still did really fast pit stops in the race. It was inspiring and makes me very proud to be part of this team. The season has not started the way we want, but I know everyone is working tremendously hard to ensure we get the team back to the top end of the grid.
What were the positives after Albert Park?
We made clear improvements during the weekend. The team has shown it is ready to do whatever it takes. This is good because my philosophy to racing is the same and I will do whatever it takes as well. Now we can go through the data and improve step-by-step. It is a long season and we need to be positive because we saw one Renault-engined car finish on the podium after the race. So we know our engine can fight for the podium and now we need to work harder than the other teams. This gives us a lot of motivation going forward. Australia was obviously a very disappointing weekend, but if you look at the positives we did more laps than in the pre-season which is quite encouraging as we have more data which is very important for making progress. We had a very negative free practice but we did plenty of laps during the race which is very constructive for the team. It shows that we’ll keep pushing and the hard work will eventually pay off.
What about the car itself?
The E22 has a lot of potential and is feeling better to drive every time we go out. We’ve had a lot of initial issues with the car, but this has been the same up and down the pit lane. I’m impressed every time I look at the packaging of the car and I know that the work going on at Enstone and with Renault Sport F1 will make the E22 into a podium contender very soon indeed.
Nico Hulkenberg: Looking back on Melbourne, did the weekend unfold as you expected?
“I tried to be open-minded going into the race and in reality it was all quite straightforward. It almost felt like a normal race from last year with no major surprises. There were no concerns for us with the fuel management, which was helped by the extra parade lap and the early safety car, and we ran reliably during all the sessions, which is a big positive to take forward.”
Now that we’ve had a race weekend, how did you find the car to drive?
“Again it’s not too dissimilar to last year. It’s a bit slower because of the regulations and you feel the loss of downforce compared with 2013. Overtaking also seemed to be quite difficult, unless you are following a car that is really struggling. For example, you could see that Fernando [Alonso] couldn’t really make a move on me.”
Were the tyres a bigger factor than you expected in Australia?
“We had issues with front left graining in the race, which we didn’t have all weekend. I think it was due to the cooler temperatures and it cost quite a bit of performance in the first two stints on the soft tyre. On the medium it was pretty good.”
Based on what you learned in Melbourne, what kind of championship can we expect this year?
“This year we’ll see bigger jumps and changes in the pecking order during the season. There are still some teams that need to sort out their issues and they will probably become stronger. All teams, including us, will have room for improvement and development is going to be very fast.”
What can we expect in Malaysia this weekend?
“Malaysia is going to be a tough challenge with totally different track characteristics and higher temperatures, which always leads to higher tyre degradation. It should be a good test of the new cars because it’s much more open than Melbourne with a nice variation of high and low-speed corners, plus two long straights.”
Sergio Perez: You were unlucky in Melbourne with a first lap puncture. How would you sum things up?
“It was really a shame. We had a good start and a great first few corners, and we were up to tenth place. Then Gutierrez locked his rears and came from nowhere. I actually saw him in my mirrors, but I was already turning into the corner. Once he hit me I was just a passenger; there was not much I could do, I got a puncture and had to pit.”
How did your race unfold after that?
“The safety car helped us and we managed to recover some positions. But the main issue of my race was the time spent behind Adrian [Sutil], which cost me a lot. I think the pace was definitely in the car to score more points, but when you have to fight from the back it puts you in a difficult position.”
How would you assess the overall competitiveness of the VJM07?
“I think as a team we are moving in the right direction and there were lots of positives to take away from Australia. It was the first race and we, as everyone else on the grid, are still learning a lot about the new car. We have seen some encouraging signs and collected a lot of data that can be put to use for the next few races, starting in Sepang.”
What are your expectations for this coming weekend?
“I believe Malaysia can be a very good race for us. Let’s see how we can perform there. I think Melbourne was a more difficult one for us and with a hotter track and more rear tyre degradation for everyone we can be stronger. I’m counting the days to Malaysia to recover what we couldn’t achieve in Australia. I have good memories of this track and I want to build on my previous results there.”