Belgium Grand Prix Preview – Team Lotus
Heikki Kovalainen, Car 20 – Chassis T128-04: “After a really good break in Finland it’ll be good to get back to work. I’m feeling better than ever and it’s always exciting heading to Spa. Eau Rouge is, of course, the corner everyone talks about and while it is still flat-out it’s actually not that hard for us now, but it’s still a big thrill. Any corner you take at 300km is pretty quick so you hang on the wheel pretty hard so that you don’t get any snap out of the corner, build up a good speed down then you feel all that compression as the car bottoms out through the corner and then you’re up the hill. It’s still very exciting!
“It’s been said so many times before but Spa is what a racetrack should be – hardcore corners, massive speed, overtaking opportunities and passionate fans, and, being Spa, anything can happen with the weather. Actually, it’s not just Spa this year – we’ve had rain following us all season so in Spa maybe we’ll have a hot and sunny weekend for once! I doubt it… it’s almost certain it will rain somewhere on the circuit at some point over the weekend and that could well be an opportunity for our team. We just have to keep pushing and make sure we’re in the hunt if there’s an opportunity to be grabbed, work hard all weekend and keep taking little steps forward.”
Jarno Trulli, Car 21 – Chassis T128-01: “Since Hungary I’ve been able to spend the last couple of weeks with my family in Miami – I’ve had a good rest and after we took such a step forward for me in Hungary I can’t wait to get back on track. Honestly – it’s hard to describe in simple terms just how much happier I was in the car from the very first laps in Budapest but it really was like night and day. For the first time all season I could work on the setup from a baseline I had confidence in, and that puts me and the team in a really good position for the rest of the season.
“It’s also good that the next race is at Spa – it’s pretty much the total opposite of Hungary, so it’ll be another good chance to keep learning how to get the best out of the new system on a much quicker track with more high speed corners. Enough’s been said over the years about what a great circuit Spa is, and for me it’s the same as everyone else – it has some unique challenges and it brings out the best in the whole team – the drivers love the track, the engineers have to work hard to set the cars up right for the whole lap and the mechanics have to be on it all weekend to deal with the changing weather conditions, so while everyone talks about it being a drivers track, for me it’s really a teams track.”
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal: “The whole team has had a good break and now they are all back and ready to get back to work in Belgium. We will do our best in Spa to keep taking measured steps forward and we need to make sure we have put the reliability issues that have affected some of our recent performances behind us.
“Off track, while the team took a deserved rest the last couple of weeks have been as busy as ever for me. We announced this week that we have taken a significant stake in QPR and while that is another new challenge it also opens up some very exciting opportunities for all the businesses I am involved with. One of the most interesting areas we will be looking at straight away is what we can learn in Team Lotus about the interaction between QPR and its fans – across the whole football industry there is a much more integrated day to day relationship with clubs’ supporter bases than F1 and its teams have with their fans and I think that we can learn a huge amount very quickly about how we can be even more accessible to our fans than we Team Lotus has been since day one.
“While QPR has obviously been a focus for the last few months we are also progressing exactly as planned with the wider Team Lotus and Caterham Cars group. We have already made a number of very big announcements this year, about our racing, road car and football activities, let alone AirAsia and Tune Group, and there is more to come over the next few months that will keep us moving forward in exactly the right direction.”
Track guide: Spa is one of the classic Grand Prix venues, scene of some of the most exciting races in Formula 1 history and still a real test for the drivers and the cars. Eau Rouge, Blanchimont, Pouhon – just some of the corners that would figure highly in any fantasy F1 track layout and when those corners are combined with the unpredictable weather that can see one half of the track wet, the other dry, the end result is consistently great racing. The Spa Francorchamps circuit is set amongst the hills and forests of the Ardennes and is by far the longest lap of the season at just over 7 km, with the race being run over a total of 44 laps through the dips and dives of what is, for many of the drivers, the greatest circuit on earth.
The layout of the Spa circuit has always promoted overtaking, and the introduction of DRS in 2011 will inevitably see more moves being made in the race as the drivers slip-stream each other through the long straights and into the tight corners. The track is very easy on brakes and the cars are run in medium-low downforce, not as low as Monza, but, unless a gamble is being made on the weather, in low downforce configuration. The weather plays a critical role throughout the race weekend, almost more than anywhere else on the calendar and the changing conditions puts the onus on the engineers and drivers to make the right calls at the right time all weekend. The length of the lap and the possibility of extreme weather can mean that if the rain starts falling and the driver has just gone past the pit entry that could be the end of his race…. Added to that is T1 – a super tight right-hand hairpin with a very wide exit as the first corner of the race which usually sees some sort of mayhem as the cars come barrelling in from the startline, jockeying for position for the run down to T3, Eau Rouge.
Arguably the most famous corner in F1, Eau Rouge is now a turn the drivers say is less of a challenge than it was when the cars had less downforce, but that does not diminish its importance. For the engineers the corner presents a unique problem – the car has to be set up to deal with the huge compression it is put under at high speed through the bottom of the corner, but without compromising the overall balance by running too stiff or too high in static ride height which would penalise the rest of the laptime. Throughout the race, and particularly at the start, the sight of the cars screaming down from T2 into Eau Rouge, twitching as they go through the corner and then the invisible hand of downforce squeezing them into the track as they come through T4 and onto the Kemmel Straight is what is, for many fans, the essence of F1.