Korean Grand Prix Preview – Lotus Renault GP

Bruno Senna interview
“The layout of the track means that all the weaknesses we had in Singapore won’t be as pronounced in Korea”

Hotfoot from the Japanese GP, Bruno looks to make amends for his sobering outing at Suzuka

What can you conclude from the race in Japan?
It was a bit of a tough race in Suzuka; I had a difficult start where I was squeezed out at turn two and that lost me a few positions. Ultimately I didn’t feel I had the right car to perform at the level Vitaly was performing. Each time I tried to push a bit harder the car felt very edgy, and I ended up going off the track on several occasions. This put me behind other cars which were running at the same pace or a bit slower which meant I was then stuck behind them and I couldn’t pass. Looking at the data we found that we had a bit of a problem with the downforce as we were losing load throughout the race. On a high speed circuit you do not want that to happen. One of the most pleasing aspects of the weekend was coming back from my shunt in FP3 to qualify with the same lap time as my team-mate – I think we can take a positive note from that. The team did a great job putting the car back together in such a short time after the mistake I made (in free practice 3) and I was happy to deliver a good result for them by getting into Q3. As a team we are working well together and I’m learning a lot from the engineers and mechanics with every race that passes.

How do you handle the pressure of coming back from something like your FP3 shunt to perform so strongly in qualifying?
I helped the team with the rebuild of the car and I even bled my own brakes! And I did a good job as the pedal was firm! In qualifying I had to ‘remove my brain’, as Eric told me: ‘just drive without thinking about it,’ and that’s what I did. I just attacked as I had nothing else to lose at that moment in time. I knew the car was good enough for a top ten position and that’s what I achieved.

Next stop Korea – what are your memories from last year?
My memories of last year’s event are not great; I had suspension failure in practice and then I had a very difficult race with the rain, safety car and then the red flag. It was a very difficult way to learn a new track and certainly an eventful weekend. This year will be like starting afresh.

What’s your impression of the circuit?
It is a difficult track, and I think there are many places where you can make mistakes. There are off-camber corners scattered through the track and for a driver that’s not really the most comfortable thing. However, it’s the same for everybody and I’m hoping that we can use Suzuka as a baseline for when we arrive in Korea then take the car out for the first time on Friday. From then we can just chip away at the time and get on target for qualifying and the race.

With a similar downforce level to Suzuka and a number of medium to high speed corners, do you think it will suit the R31?
Yes, I think it should. There are a few big traction requirements in Korea but the type of tarmac is very smooth and the layout of the track mean that all the weaknesses we had in Singapore won’t be as pronounced in Korea. We should be strong again and our car should be in the top 10 all the way to the end of the season.

Vitaly Petrov interview
“I have momentum and confidence behind me, but I’m fully mindful that it will be a different proposition to Suzuka”

Having helped the team reinforce its position in the Constructors’ Championship, Vitaly looks to build on his Suzuka performance in Korea

How did it feel to be back amongst the points in Japan?
It was a good feeling and I am satisfied with how I drove over the course of the three days. I was pleased with my pace in the practice sessions and I managed to secure a respectable position in qualifying, which gave me a strong chance of being on the points board again. Did I capitalise on the grid position I had? Not as much as I would have liked, no. I thought I could have been in the hunt for seventh or eighth, but our strategy played out reasonably in the end. It was evidence again that our car adapts well to the faster circuits.

You pulled out your best tricks near the end of the race, passing the Force India cars along the way…
Yes, I enjoyed the last phase of the race because I was able to use the soft tyres well to pass Paul (Di Resta) and Adrian (Sutil) and close in on Sergio (Perez). Throughout the first stages of the race I wasn’t able to make much ground on the cars in front because I had to look after the tyres, but I knew that as I got closer to the chequered flag I would be able to get back in the top 10.

Your result gave the team a bit more breathing space in the battle for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship – how important were those two points?
I think they were crucial. Extending our lead (in fifth place) was target number one last weekend, and we achieved that so we can have no complaints from that perspective.

Now it’s the Korean Grand Prix – have you got some good momentum behind you to get an even better result there?
Yes, I have momentum and confidence behind me, but I’m fully mindful that it will be a different proposition to Suzuka. Some of it is driven at high speed, but there are also a few second gear corners too, which our car won’t be so keen on. It was quite a dirty circuit last year, but I expect that to be less of an issue this time around. We will collectively put our thinking caps on again to see how we can get the most from the weekend.

Eric Boullier interview – ‘A word with the boss’
“In many ways, 2011 has been a transitional year for us with a whole range of changes”

Fresh from a strategically challenging race in Suzuka, Eric explains the importance of Korea to the Formula 1 calendar

Would ‘satisfied’ or ‘pleased’ be the best word to describe the team’s exploits in Japan?
I would have to say that I was satisfied. We set foot in Japan with high hopes just a fortnight after what can only be explained as a weekend of misery in Singapore. We thought Suzuka would be a circuit that the R31 would take to naturally. In some respects we were right; we were on the pace all weekend long, but unfortunately we didn’t make the headlines as we might have hoped. After a good qualifying performance I was hopeful, even confident, that we would make real inroads in the top 10 and could push for a double points finish but, as it turned out, it was tale of two halves. On one hand, Vitaly drove well on a two-stop strategy and everything seemed to work for him. On the other hand, Bruno had a tricky start and never really recuperated the lost time – even the emergence of the safety car didn’t help. It was one of those days for him.

You must view Vitaly’s points as important in the team’s quest for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship…
Absolutely, yes. I have to look at the weekend in Japan practically. We are nearing the end of the season and our objectives are narrowing. We know what is within the realms of possibility in the next seven weeks or so, and our sights are set on that fifth place in the championship. The two points in Japan brought us much closer to achieving that, but there will not be an ounce of complacency from the team.

Korea is very new on the F1 scene – how does it rank as a venue?
I fully maintain that for Formula 1 to consider itself a global sport it needs to cross borders, and showcase itself in new territories. Korea joined the F1 calendar only last year and I was very pleased to see it put on a good show. Japan may well be well-established in the motorsport world but Korea is not, and the country deserves the chance to build its own brand in F1, too. I am looking forward to returning and seeing how the venue and organisation has progressed from last year.

With only four races remaining, how much thought are you giving to 2012?
Frankly speaking, a lot of my thoughts have now turned to next year. Whilst the priority remains securing fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship and helping nurture Bruno and Vitaly’s opportunities to score highly at the next four races, an increasing amount of my time is devoted to seeing how we can raise the bar. In many ways, 2011 has been a transitional year for us with a whole range of changes. However, sport throws up many difficulties and it is a test of character as to how one handles them. I like to think we have dealt with things in the right manner and that there will be brighter times ahead. Make no mistake, this team’s number one goal is to bring silverware back to Enstone.

James Allison – Tech Talk
“The Korean International Circuit is not a track which favours any particular aspect of the car”

Following on from the team’s exploits in Suzuka, James discusses the broad nature of the Korean International Circuit.

Which aspects of the car are crucial for a good performance at the Korean International Circuit?
The Korean International Circuit is not a track which favours any particular aspect of the car; it’s one where the entire package has to be maximised. Whilst there are long straights where a low drag package would be beneficial, there are sufficient corners to require higher levels of downforce for a quick lap. Interestingly, the track surface is very smooth and there are no notable bumps. Ally this with no kerbs of any stature and you can run the car very low. This could play to the strengths of our exhaust package as the potentially more constant proximity between car floor and ground should aid and assist hot air flow management.

How different is the set-up from Suzuka?
We run a similar level of downforce to that employed in Japan, however there are subtle yet pertinent differences. For example, DRS should be far more effective in Korea thanks to the long straights so we will give this aspect due consideration amidst our musings of wing angles.

What was learnt at Suzuka?
Early in the weekend at Suzuka our car did not lend itself to long runs on the soft tyre, where we fared even worse than our rivals. This encouraged us along the path of favouring the medium tyre in the race; a strategy contrary to that employed by those around us. The tyre performance in the race diverged slightly from our predictions, with the soft tyre proving to be faster than expected, meaning that its limitations in durability were allayed. This, and the timing of the safety car were not the most helpful of scenarios for our task, but nevertheless we finished ahead of Force India, which was one of our targets.

How much more understanding do you have of the circuit the team is not heading to Korea for the first time?
Heading to Korea last year was certainly a voyage into the unknown and we certainly arrive in Mokpo with more megabytes of data on our servers than in 2010. That said, for the inaugural event we faced a circuit which was very dirty and a set of very trying weather conditions in the race so there is still much to learn about the track. Track evolution was very pronounced so we will have to see if that was a result of the then recent surfacing or if the local environment is contributory to this.

The weather had a big impact on the race last year – what range of conditions we could expect this year?
Certainly the weather presented us with an interesting set of challenges last year but the current forecast is for rather pleasant conditions which should be favoured by all those to all taking part in the event.