CAN LOTUS F1 TEAM TURN THIS SEASON AROUND?
Federico Gastaldi-DEPUTY TEAM PRINCIPAL
Lotus F1 Team Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi is buoyed by the team’s first finish of the year, but under no illusions of the task ahead.
What’s the outlook for Bahrain?
We head to Bahrain still with lots of work to do, but with clear evidence that we are heading in the right direction. We’re at a very early stage in the understanding of our car’s performance and we’re still having to fight reliability issues; no doubt you will find us in Bahrain with plenty of work to do!
Seeing Romain cross the finish line in Sepang must have been a good feeling?
After the start we have had to this season, of course it was a great feeling to complete the Malaysian Grand Prix. That said, we’re not here as a team to celebrate a non-points finish. Our performance in Sepang represents a step in getting to where we want to be, and we have quite a lot more steps to make. The positive is that we are seeing progress so we are going in the right direction.
He was very determined to keep eleventh position?
Hearing him on the radio and speaking to him afterwards, he was very determined to do much better than that! The problem with rear downforce for the last eight laps of the race really meant he was fighting with one hand tied behind his back but he was still trying to fight for the positions ahead before he had to deliver a strong defensive drive. It was great stuff to watch.
Not quite the same relief over in Pastor’s side of the garage?
Pastor had a very trying weekend with more than his fair share of problems, yet the fantastic thing has been that he hasn’t let this dishearten him. On the contrary, his response has been fantastic and motivating for everyone. He is a very uplifting guy and will always share a joke with the crew in the garage or the team back at the factory. You can see the determination and focus in his eyes, but he certainly hasn’t given any indication of being the kind of driver who will throw his toys out of the pram when things aren’t going his way.
How’s the motivation of the team?
I still say it’s stronger than ever. We have an even higher mountain than usual to climb so we are up for the challenge. It’s incredible how relentless everyone at the track and at Enstone is in their focus and approach to getting us to where we want to be.
When can the team be fighting for points?
Romain was unlucky that he wasn’t in the points in Sepang so it wouldn’t be a lie to say that we have already been fighting for points. We are still at such an early stage of extracting performance from the E22 that our potential for improvement is very good.
What’s the short term plan for progress?
We are targeting reliability as that enables us to better understand the car. Equally, we are bringing new aerodynamic and performance parts to every race. When we get more track time we have more understanding of the car and more information for our engineers to work on.
Now it’s two races into the 2014 season, what are your thoughts on the racing spectacle?
Aside from the results from the team so far, I have enjoyed the last two Grands Prix. The cars move about a lot and there have been some good wheel-to-wheel moments which is always great to watch. The fascinating aspect is the knowledge that we are all so early in the understanding of how to race to these latest regulations. This means we will see the racing evolve a lot over the season as the teams all develop their cars and race strategies and the drivers understand better how to extract maximum performance from them. It’s going to be a great season
Romain Grosjean and Lotus F1 Team reached the chequered flag for the first time in 2014 at Sepang, when the Frenchman overcame a loss of downforce to win an entertaining duel for eleventh place with former team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. Now the aim is to do better in Bahrain’s inaugural F1 night race.
What are your thoughts looking ahead to Bahrain?
It’s a good track and I’m happy to go back there. I’m especially looking forward to the first night race at a circuit I like. Twice I’ve raced there in Formula 1 and twice I’ve been on the podium. So that’s a good record! We were not very successful in the pre-season tests, but hopefully there will be some more updates and performance from our side. I’m sure everyone is going to work hard even though there are just a few days before Bahrain. The race finish at Sepang is a big encouragement. No matter what the challenge, we are aiming for podiums and strong performances wherever we go.
What do you like about the Bahrain track?
On paper it is not the most amazing circuit, but when you drive it’s pretty cool. I like the long straights followed by the hairpins and then the twisty middle section with a lot of G-force which makes it exciting. It gives the driver plenty to do behind the wheel and it gives you quite a lot to do in the debrief as well. It’s always rewarding when you balance all the different demands on the car to get the lap as fast as possible.
How important for progress is the mileage attained in Malaysia?
It is essential. To make major progress we need more days like Saturday and Sunday in Malaysia, where we learned a lot about the car. There are some encouraging signs. We know we have a lot of work ahead, but we also know which areas to work on. We will try new things in Bahrain and I’m confident the car will be better.
How did it feel to reach the chequered flag in Malaysia?
Finishing the race was our first objective and then we wanted to see where we were with our car. It’s not perfect yet but it’s good to be where we are at this stage. I had a big loss of downforce around eight laps from the end which made things difficult, especially when I had to defend. Without that issue, I’m sure we could have finished higher. It was a good battle with Kimi. I kept remembering our past battles to make sure he couldn’t go through!
What are the current generation cars like to race?
I would say they are early in their development and we’re still some way from where we want to be in terms of performance. At the moment there is a lot of management going on in the cockpit and we’ll develop a better understanding and strategies of how to approach the race. Certainly, we’ve only completed one race so there’s lots more to come.
Do you think the night race will make much difference in Bahrain?
It means a later start, and if my calculations of how the day schedule runs are right, it could mean a larger window for sleep which is always welcome! In terms of at the track, every year we have had hot temperatures and a lot of sun which made tyre degradation quite high. Temperatures will clearly be lower at night and we’ll have to see how that changes grip and degradation.
I don’t know if being at night will make much difference to the results, but it will certainly be an exciting event visually. It is also the tenth anniversary of the race so I’m sure they will put on a good show.
Why has Bahrain been so kind to you in the past?
I wouldn’t say it’s been exactly kind, but certainly we’ve been able to perform well there in the past. It’s a track I knew from before Formula 1 and it has characteristics that I like in a circuit; some big braking into certain corners, some good change of direction with the double-left in the middle of the racetrack and it all flows quite nicely. With the E20 and E21 we were able to take advantage of the car’s good balance and kindness to tyres. It’s early to say how the E22 will perform, but we head there with a positive frame of mind
With the first two races of the season not quite going to plan, Pastor Maldonado looks forward to the challenge of one of the toughest races of the season.
What do you think of the Bahrain International Circuit?
Bahrain is a good circuit. We’ve been there in the pre-season and I think all the teams will be happy to return, especially for the weather and the type of track. I would say it is a ‘complete’ circuit because it has a mix of high, medium and low speed turns, plus good sequences of corners. So it’s a good venue to test at, which is exactly what we need to evaluate our new developments. The facilities for the teams are great as well.
Malaysia then Bahrain, do you enjoy racing in the heat?
To be honest they are not my favourite conditions, but it’s the same for everyone so I’m not complaining. When the visor goes down it doesn’t matter. You just focus on driving.
How important has the track time been during the Malaysian weekend?
It’s the most important thing. More mileage with the car means the engineers can increasingly focus on performance. Clearly reliability is still not 100 percent, partly because of our late testing debut with the car, but we have fixed many problems and that enables us to turn more attention to performance.
How frustrating was it to suffer from issues every day of the race weekend?
Very, of course! I’m here to race so you never want to be sat in the garage when the car should be out on track. I had more than my fair share of unreliability in Malaysia, but every time we expose a problem it means we have something to fix and we take a step forwards. There were good positives in Sepang. I did get some good laps and I can feel that the E22 is a proper race car. A race car that still needs quite a lot of work, but still a race car with great potential. We saw that Romain completed a race distance, which is a great positive. We also saw our rivals having problems, showing that we are not alone with the challenges of these very different new cars.
How would you sum up Sunday at Sepang?
With Bianchi I just felt an impact at the back of the car which spun me around. But from the start we were losing a lot of power which meant I had to retire in order to protect the engine. Despite that, the weekend was clearly a step forwards. Since the Saturday, we were able to run far more with the car and Romain was able to finish the race. We’re not the only ones with issues so early in the season. This is all related to the complex packages in the car, but we learnt a lot and will make progress for Bahrain.
What do you want from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend?
Good reliable laps in the car would be the starting point. This will allow us to understand the car’s performance and where we can improve it. It will allow me to give feedback to my engineers and understand the challenges of driving the latest generation car. We can also work on understanding the tyres better as they are different this year, and the tyres are always an area where performance gains can be made.
Bahrain will be a night race for the first time, will that mean any special changes?
We will probably need to approach Bahrain a little differently technically now, in terms of tyre pressures and set-up. Otherwise we will treat it much like any other race and obviously we have experience from night events in Singapore and Abu Dhabi. I’m definitely looking forward to it though.
It’s the first time at night in Bahrain so something new for us all to discover.
NICK CHESTER, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
Improvements in reliability mean attention is turning to unleashing the true performance of the E22. Lotus F1 Team Technical Director Nick Chester explains all…
What did the team learn in Sepang?
We’ve learnt more about our mapping and we’ve made some improvements with the braking of the car, but there is still a lot more to come. We have more work to do at Enstone including improving the set-up and operation of our brake-by-wire system, which is one of the areas where the drivers have the biggest complaints. It’s spoiling their entry into the corner and costing them quite a lot of time.
How does brake by wire work and why is it causing issues?
The system looks at what the driver is requesting from the brake pedal and then the demand is split between a braking force generated by the power unit and a normal hydraulic braking force from the callipers. The difficult part is fine tuning those two different types of braking demands so that they work together in a natural, predictable way for the driver. It’s very important to have a brake-by-wire system that responds the way you want and to get the mapping correct so that you have the right braking behaviour to make it easier for the driver to control wheel locking. When you initially apply the brakes you want to get the pressures up high as quickly as you can, for good retardation. But for corner entry, how you come off the brakes is really important. Being able to carry good speed into the corner apex makes a massive difference to the lap time.
If we add up all of the laps done with the E22 so far this year, it’s probably the same as the first three days of testing last year…
That’s right. We are at a very early stage in terms of understanding of the car so there is a lot of latent potential to be unearthed. We are still exposing reliability weaknesses, but we’re working through these well. The unfortunate aspect is that this has occurred at the races, where we want to be scoring points and building a championship campaign. At the races we’re still doing some work that you would normally do in winter testing. Some of that is obviously due to an enormous regulation change – everybody is still learning – but due to our lack of running we are on a much steeper learning gradient. There is a positive that there are much bigger steps that we can make. An example of that is the improvement in wet qualifying performance this weekend relative to Melbourne.
How frustrating is it to lose track time due to different reliability issues?
It is frustrating. Particularly in Malaysia because the build of the cars was very good, but then a software issue let us down and prevented us running in FP1.
Both our drivers have been vocal in praising the long hours done by the team at the racetrack. How much longer do the cars take to work on now?
The cars are much more complicated this year. There is a lot more involved in the build of the car. Obviously it’s only the second race and things will get easier. We will re-design things to make them easier to fit, the procedures will improve and the mechanics will get more familiar with the components. But even by mid-season, I would say it will still be a harder car to work on than last year. I’m sure that’s the same for all teams.
How happy are you with the upgrades brought to Malaysia?
It’s a tricky one to tell because we lost a lot of Friday running, so we didn’t get all the comparisons done that we normally do. We’ll have to do a further comparison in Bahrain to get a proper feeling for how they perform.
What are the main challenges for Bahrain?
We go there without a lot of mileage in winter testing so we have more set-up work to do on the track. Obviously temperatures can be quite high, so that is one thing we will have to watch out for. Then it’s about getting more of our development parts on the car and doing more work with the power unit.
E22 SET UP
FRONT WING Front wing settings are optimised around turns six and seven.
REAR WING Relatively high levels of downforce are required for Bahrain so the car runs with a lot of rear wing. Not to Monaco levels, but comparable amounts to Albert Park and Malaysia. High temperatures mean less dense and aerodynamically effective air to cleave.
SUSPENSION There are reasonable traction demands so the suspension needs to be sufficiently compliant for these requirements. The traction demands from lower speed corners mean a focus on enabling maximum usage of the mechanical grip from the tyres. Kerbs are used in turn two in order to maximise the straightline speed before turn three and the long kerb at the exit of turn 10 is generally avoided because its harshness can hurt traction.
BRAKES Bahrain represents the first proper test of braking systems of the season. Long straights lead into slow corners, meaning brake temperatures and wear levels need close monitoring.
TYRES Pirelli’s P Zero white medium and yellow soft are nominated. Despite the circuit’s desert domain, the track is not as sandy as you may expect – due to the circuit’s impressive track cleaner! The asphalt has a high abrasiveness which gives good grip but can lead to high tyre degradation. So far the tyres this year have proven to be quite tricky to manage in the races having similar degradation than 2013 despite being a step harder.
ENGINE SET UP
With four long straights over the course of the lap the MGU-H will have plenty of opportunity to recharge while the heavy braking points at the end of the straights allow the MGU-K to keep the battery reserve at high charge. The circuit is therefore in the middle of the table on the balance between electrical energy and fuel. One of the major challenges will be the hot temperatures of the Bahrain desert that will put the cooling system of the Energy F1-2014 under a great deal of pressure. With cooling requirements already at a premium with the high rotational speeds of the turbocharger and MGU-H, adding extra external temperatures will make engine cooling a priority task on the job list.