How do you feel your season is shaping up?
If you asked me before the start of the season whether I would be happy with podiums I would have said yes, but now I’ve had some good results, I want more. In the last few races the results haven’t been as strong as I’ve wanted. We’ve finished well but I’m disappointed not to have a win yet. We just have to get everything together and I’m sure it can come.
What was your feeling at the end of the European Grand Prix?
I was happy, but equally it’s always disappointing when you don’t win. The race wasn’t perfect for me. I got a good start but then I got blocked and lost quite a few places. I managed to retake some positions but it wasn’t easy. At the restart, I lost a place to Lewis [Hamilton]. I just got too much wheelspin out of the corner. Then, when I was in third place, a few cars retired and I thought I would save the tyres a bit and try to get Lewis at some point. I saw him sliding and it wasn’t until the last few laps when I could make the move, but I got him in the end.
If you could have got past Lewis sooner, do you think you could have challenged Fernando [Alonso] for the win?
I had a good car, but basically I let him past at the restart. After the bridge, I made a mistake and Lewis got past me. It was my own mistake. I would have overtaken him sooner to get the place back if I could have done. I was not waiting for the last or second last lap; I just didn’t have the speed. I had to wait until he ran out of tyres. Then I got the chance. I tried to get closer and closer but I was not fast enough earlier on. If Lewis had not got past me I would have had a better chance against Fernando, but it’s one of those things; if you make a mistake you pay the price. I think we’ve been closer to the win at other tracks, but if we see everything going right for us over a race weekend we’re not far off. We’re certainly getting there.
How do you like the Silverstone circuit?
It’s always such a good feeling going to Silverstone. It’s a great place to race. I have a long history there. It was the real base for the start of my international racing career in Formula Renault in 1999 and 2000. Since then I’ve always enjoyed racing at Silverstone. I don’t know why; there must be this nostalgic feeling that I have every time we go there. I’ll enjoy the weekend whatever the weather will be. We’ve seen quite a lot of different conditions there in the past, and not always good! It’s always windy at Silverstone and often it rains, too. The track conditions change very quickly, which makes the car more tricky to set up. It’s part of the fun racing in England; at least it’s the same for everybody.
What are the challenges of Silverstone?
When I first raced there it was my real favourite. It’s so fast and demanding which makes it very challenging. The corners really flow and it’s all about long, sweeping high-speed corners and high downforce levels. Somehow it has been a good circuit for me since the very beginning. It will be interesting to see how the new section changes a lap, but I’m sure I’ll learn it very quickly.
You’ve won at Silverstone in 2007 and been on the podium five times altogether. How does it feel when everything goes right there?
When you win in Silverstone, it gives such a good feeling. You have to get everything exactly right. I won there in Formula Renault and then with Ferrari in 2007. It would be fantastic to win again there, especially with the factory just down the road. I’m sure we would have some fantastic celebrations.
What’s the mindset heading to Silverstone?
I think we head to Silverstone with more confidence. We understand a few more things with the car. It was good to have a really hot weekend all the way through at Valencia as we were able to work on the car and really analyse things. Silverstone is very high speed; I’m confident we’ll have strong pace and that should lead to a good race.
What are your feelings about the European Grand Prix?
I was very close to what could have been my first win, and at the location of my Formula 1 debut too! It would have made a nice story, but reality doesn’t always follow the script. It was a fantastic race until I had the problem. I was fighting with world champions in Lewis [Hamilton], Sebastian [Vettel] and Fernando [Alonso], and I was right with them on pace. It was unbelievable for me and I’m pleased with the way the team is working. We made a real step forwards in Valencia, understanding some performance considerations which will help us for the rest of the season. I can’t wait to put them into practice at Silverstone. Ultimately, we didn’t finish, but through no fault of our own. I was as sad as the team. The win was there for the taking, but it just got away. I have to be patient. I didn’t achieve my first win in Valencia, but I am convinced that it will come. It’s great to fight with World Champions, proper big teams. We are now a big team.
What lessons did you learn personally at Valencia?
It was my first safety car period in Formula 1, so that was good experience for the future and I’m sure we will be able to use this knowledge next time. My race start was good and I could make use of the momentum I had off the line. A lot of people say I’m too aggressive sometimes; I don’t think I have been this year. Sometimes I have made a mistake, and you can point to a lack of experience, but in Valencia I showed that I am able to be aggressive when I need to be, and also to leave some space when I need to do so. When Fernando overtook me around the outside of turn two I left him space.
How did the alternator problem manifest itself?
There was a warning on the steering wheel and I kept asking Ayao [Komatsu] “What is it? What is it? Can I do anything?” and he told me not to worry about the alarm. Next I lost some information on the dashboard, and it wasn’t easy to drive, then I started to feel that there was a problem with the car and something was going wrong. This was about a lap and a half before we stopped, then suddenly everything cut; I couldn’t even use the radio! This meant all contact with the engineers was gone. I was stuck on the track and couldn’t cross it, so I had to wait for 20 laps under the sun before I could get back.
How was it at the side of the track being an impromptu spectator?
It was almost as frustrating as the car cutting out! I couldn’t discuss with the engineers what had gone wrong and I had to watch the rest of the race stranded out on track; at least my chair was comfortable! You just want to return to the pits, talk to the crew and help with the rest of the race.
It will be your first time in a Formula 1 car on the new Silverstone circuit layout…
I won on it in the GP2 Series last year, so I’m not too bad on the track! It’s the same for everybody. It’s challenging, but it has a good feel. It’s one of the quickest tracks of the year. There are corners which are legendary like the Magotts, Becketts, Chapel complex. What a feeling… It’s a special Grand Prix for our team as the factory is very close to the track. It will be nice to see them. They are all doing an amazing job, always working so hard. I will be visiting them after the race and hopefully we can go there with some good silverware to show them.
Eric, What’s your assessment of the last race?
Let me give you the “glass half full” version: it’s was a good result for the team and for Kimi. Second brought a lot of points, and we also didn’t lose ground on the teams ahead of us in the championship standings. Now, let me give you the “glass half empty” version : it was a disappointing day for Romain, as he was in such a good position for at least a podium finish. We also could have put both cars on the podium and moved closer to McLaren in the championship. This is racing though, and we will work closely with our partners to ensure we don’t see a failure like this again in the future. In the end, both drivers and the team worked very well and we have shown that if we achieve a good qualifying position we can fight for the win.
Are you happy with the pace shown by the E20?
Yes, even if we constantly have to improve if we want to stay in the game. We often don’t look as good as our opponents on a Friday, and this is because we are working on race pace and not just looking for one lap performance. We’re doing our homework and don’t take much notice of what our opponents are doing. In Valencia, the whole weekend went well. We qualified better, which set us up better for the race, and our race pace was strong. We just need to carry on in this manner for the rest of the season.
Silverstone is something of a homecoming – how does this affect the team?
It’s good for everyone to be so close to the factory and certainly our travel expenses are lower for this event! We will have a lot of visitors from Enstone and it is fantastic to have the support of everyone who is working so hard over the year. We will have to see about the weather in Silverstone, but regardless of whether it’s hot or cold we need to do well. It’s a different layout and we’re back to a permanent race track after the last three street courses so we’ll have to see how we do.
What’s the atmosphere like in the factory at the moment?
One year ago, I felt like everyone was motivated like never before; that every single member of the staff was ready to go the extra mile to see us do well on the track. Well… 2011 doesn’t even compare to 2012, as I think we have made another step. I have to say that, apart from the performance, all the recent investments made by the team are improving our efficiency in all areas. The latest addition, which is our new engineer’s office at the track, is very impressive and has had a very positive impact on the way we work. Recent results have boosted everybody’s hopes and commitment in Enstone. The team is united, the expectations are high. The spirit from the late 2009 season is far, far away.
The team is very popular amongst the fans and have a very unique image in the paddock. What makes Lotus F1 Team so special?
It is a mixture of several things. First of all, historically our team has been used to maximising its resources. Although we have a very reasonable budget this year, we know how to use it efficiently. We don’t waste money and are not seen as burning bank notes on first class flights or gold plated business cards. Also, we’re keeping our feet on the ground. Humility has to be our n°1 quality. It means that we’re close to our fans, we’re responsive, and we never forget how lucky we are. We’re racing because we want to win, but we also want to bring something special to our supporters and our partners. Corporate speeches and political games are not for us. We’ve got nothing to do with the corporate monsters we’re fighting against on the track. This is probably why Romain’s and Kimi’s personalities are expressing themselves so freely at the wheel.
Why does the E20 seem to go so well when it’s hot?
Tyres have a certain window in which they work; get them too cold and they don’t grip, get them too hot and they don’t grip. There’s a reasonably wide band in the middle where they work well. It seems like the E20 generates a little less heat in the tyres than some of our opponents’ cars, meaning we can live with on a hotter track when some of our competitors are starting to move out of the tyre window. The downside of this comes when we have a cold track Ð or after a safety car. Fortunately, most of the races are contested in summer conditions where you are trying to keep temperatures down rather than having to worry about generating heat, so we’ve probably got it the better way around – even if it can be a bit frustrating at times.
Silverstone isn’t necessarily one of the hottest locales we visit. Could this be an issue?
The track itself will put plenty of energy through the tyres thanks to its layout of high speed corners and the abrasion of its surface. While we would be delighted if the UK managed one of its occasional heat waves, there’s certainly potential for the surface temperature to be cooler than Valencia. Low track temperatures would only cause us grief in qualifying, and if we can manage that ourselves rather than needing the track to heat up our tyres then it will be okay.
Are there many new parts for Silverstone?
The updates we used in Valencia went reasonably well. We had three or four bits that certainly improved matters and a couple of parts we’re still looking to improve. For Silverstone there are some additional tweaks on the car which only those with the very keenest eyes would notice, but we’re hoping they are a step in the right direction.
How should Silverstone suit the E20?
It’s the first track for a while with challenging high speed corners. Things went reasonably well for us in Mugello, Barcelona, Sepang and Melbourne, so we’re quite hopeful that the E20 will prosper.
We arrive at Silverstone after a European Grand Prix of mixed emotions…
I guess it is a nice problem to have to come away from a race feeling somewhat deflated after having achieved a second place. However, we could have done better. Up until Romain’s car retired, we were in the glorious position of being the only team to have both cars able to gain a big points haul, which would have been fantastic in Constructors’ Championship terms. It was a shame not to capitalise on that. However, both our cars were running strongly, so it’s another track where the E20 has been pretty reasonable and we can be happy about that.
What went wrong with Romain’s car?
Put simply, the alternator failed. This meant the electrical supply to the engine and ancillary systems ceased and so the car stopped moving. One of the really good things about working with Renault Sport is that they feel the pain of something like this just as keenly as we do. At Enstone we are doing all that we can to assist with the resolution of this problem, but we know that Viry will leave no stone unturned in bringing a good solution to the next race.
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