MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW
27/28/29 MARCH 2015
Lotus F1 Team’s Deputy Team Principal, Federico Gastaldi, looks to the Malaysian Grand Prix.
How important a race is the Malaysian Grand Prix?
It’s amazing to think we’ll be racing in Sepang for the seventeenth time this year! Malaysia’s an interesting commercial market for us as a team and the event usually delivers a great race. Sepang’s a superb facility and there’s normally a really strong turn out too. The track layout really challenges the drivers and engineers and this combined with the challenges the weather can present makes for an event we all enjoy.
What do you expect to see from the team in Kuala Lumpur?
We should build on the work in Australia. Yes, our race was very short there, however we’ve demonstrated the first step of our 2015 fightback by qualifying in the top ten with good race pace potential. There’s nothing to say Sepang should not suit us, so we’re ready to deliver.
What did the team learn in Australia?
We learnt that the E23 looks to be a good car relative to its opposition, albeit a car that still has strong development potential to get better. Pastor and Romain were both very happy over the weekend in Australia. Even after both drivers retired from the race for different reasons, they both still had glints in their eyes despite their race frustrations. The reason for the underlying positivity at the team is we know we’re capable of delivering good strong results this year.
Did the Formula 1 spectacle deliver in Australia?
On many levels the event delivered spectacularly. The crowds were fantastic, the organisation was exemplary and it’s a pleasure to start the season in Melbourne. The official ticket sales information say that there were 101,500 spectators on Sunday which is a very impressive rise compared to last year’s sales. Formula 1 is back on track! We must all say thanks a Million Ron Walker for a magnificent job done from you and your fantastic team through 20 great races. Formula 1 will miss your exemplary personality and entrepreneurship enthusiasm! In terms of this year’s track action, we can’t say that it was a classic race, and not only because our cars weren’t involved in most of it! That said, you never know what might happen in the first race of the season. There were some good battles down the field and some very good debuts from new drivers. It’s clear all of us have some work to do to take the battle to Mercedes, but that’s what we’re all working hard for.
What do you want to see in Sepang?
Points. That’s what we’re here for. We want to see progress from the start we made at Albert Park and it would be fantastic to have both cars greet the chequered flag with a good clutch of points stashed away. Of course, this is what every team is trying to do, but we’re battling hard at Enstone to make this happen.
What are your thoughts on what looks like the loss of the German Grand Prix?
It’s not looking promising for this year but I’m sure we’ll be back in 2016. It’s of course a shame for everyone, especially all the German fans who wanted to come see Formula 1, but these things happen sometimes in the commercial world. For the team we know we have nineteen races. Twenty races makes for a long season so we still have a pretty full season even if one race is dropped.
What’s the route map for the team in the initial part of the 2015 season?
Re-establishing ourselves as a force to be reckoned with on track is certainly the primary aim as we did suffer in that regard last season. Through doing this we can offer the best return to our partners as well as show further appeal for new partners. We’re having a number of discussions in this area so there’s strong potential to grow the team before the year is out.
After a one-lap long Australian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean is reloaded and ready for action at the challenging Sepang circuit.
What will be the main challenges at Sepang?
The first challenges in Malaysia will be the heat, humidity and usual rain storms at 4pm! It’s a good track with some interesting corners, fast straights and a track surface that can sometimes be difficult to understand. The heat and humidity can give the cars and drivers something to think about and the rain can give us all a challenge too. For us as a team, the target is to get some race laps on the board.
What did you learn from the Australian Grand Prix?
Albert Park was quite a strong weekend in terms of getting on top of the car, finding strong pace and a good balance and demonstrating good potential, but it was a very brief in terms of race laps, or should I say a race lap?! It was unfortunate that our race was very short because of quite a simple issue, but it’s something everyone back at Enstone has been working on. I’m sure we’ll have a much better race in Sepang.
What do you do after a frustrating race like the Australian Grand Prix?
It was frustrating to drive back to the pit at the end of the first lap, but despite this we’re all very positive in the team. Of course, there were a few choice expressions for a few moments afterwards, but we all have seen that this year’s car is good – it has great potential – and we know we’ll be delivering strong points finishes very soon, hopefully in Malaysia. For myself, I spoke with the team straight after returning to the pits and we were quite quickly able to work out what had happened. One frustrating race doesn’t detract from the full season ahead.
What do you think of the level of competition seen so far in the 2015 season?
It’s still early days, but it’s clear we’ve all got a lot of work to do to get to the level of the Mercedes. Behind them the pack is much closer. For us at Lotus F1 Team we know it’s the first season with a new engine supplier so we’re still learning about the potential. Certainly, the E23 has a lot more to come and it’s going to be very exciting working with everyone at Enstone to develop the car yet further.
How good a track is Sepang to race on?
It’s one of my favourites. It has a great flow to it and there are good overtaking opportunities as well as good potential for an exciting race. It’s a circuit that many drivers like. It’s also an interesting track for the engineers working to get the best set-up for the car to work well. It makes for quite a hard race too, as you have the heat and humidity along with the challenge of the track itself. It’s going to be fun.
How much of a challenge are the weather conditions?
We haven’t done any proper running with this car in the wet, so if we see rain during the course of a session it’s going to be a learning experience. The E23 demonstrates pretty good baseline characteristics and its driveability and balance are what you want from a car in the wet so this shouldn’t make for too many issues.
What do you think should be possible in the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Our target for the early races is to be regularly in the top ten. We certainly demonstrated that in Albert Park and our race pace simulations were good so if we’d remained in the race we should have finished strongly. There’s nothing to suggest this can’t be the case in Malaysia and we really want to start scoring points.
Despite an exceptionally short Australian Grand Prix, Pastor is buoyed by the potential of the E23 Hybrid and reckons Sepang should suit the squad.
What are your thoughts looking to Sepang?
Sepang is a good track and I really like the challenges it presents. It’s very interesting from an engineering point of view, especially the aerodynamics, but also the tyres because the asphalt is very aggressive. Hopefully the race will be much longer for us than it was in Australia!
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 high temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability. 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.
On reflection, what are your thoughts on the Australian Grand Prix?
From our perspective it was a very short race! It was really frustrating as the car looked good all weekend – better even than it had looked in testing – and we had good potential with our race pace and durability. Then my race was undone in the first corners. There was nothing I could do as there was contact occurring behind me which then collected my car. It was difficult to look at the damage done to the car as I knew how hard all the crew in the pits and the rest of the team at Enstone had been working. That’s motor racing sometimes, unfortunately. I didn’t see much of the rest of the race but I was told it wasn’t the most exciting. Hopefully we’ll be in action for all of the Malaysian Grand Prix to ensure it’s better to watch, and better for our results!
What could have been possible in the race?
Everything looked very positive for a strong top ten finish, maybe even top five. Our car was strong and we adapted to the track well. The weather was in our favour and we had great potential.
Do you think Malaysia could offer similarly strong opportunities?
It’s still very early in the season so there will still be surprises as teams learn their cars and unlock their potential. Certainly, everything we’ve seen so far with the E23 suggests that it should be a good all-rounder. Sepang can get very hot, and our car seems to like hot conditions so that could be a point in our favour.
How difficult is a mixed weather Grand Prix?
We know that we sometimes see heavy rain in Sepang, so it won’t be a surprise if we do see mixed conditions this year. Certainly, it can give the engineers a challenge in terms of setting up the car if there’s a wet session, or if there’s rain between the sessions as it can change the track conditions. It’s the same for everyone, of course, and at least it’s hot and wet which is far better than cold and wet!
Do you do any particular training for the humidity?
It is very humid in Malaysia, so you do have to ensure you have a good fluid intake, but in terms of training it’s a very similar programme to that you follow all year. I work closely with my trainer, Fabrizio, to ensure good all-round fitness, but in particular that I’m as fit as possible to drive an F1 car which is the primary focus. I come from Venezuela so I’m used to hot weather.
Technical Director Nick Chester evaluates the first Grand Prix of the season and looks to the challenge of Sepang.
What are the particular challenges of Malaysia?
It is hot and humid and there is a good chance of a heavy downpour, particularly late in afternoon, meaning it can be at the end of qualifying or halfway through the race. Traditionally the drivers have always liked the layout of the circuit. It has a good mix of corners – hairpins onto long straights and then in the middle part of the track, there are high speed sweeping turns. Sepang has an interesting layout and we shall look forward to racing there again this year.
What’s your review of the Australian Grand Prix?
The build of the car went fairly smoothly at the beginning of the weekend getting both chassis ready for Friday’s practice sessions. The performance of the car was pretty good from the onset: the drivers were happy, the car was good to drive and we were able to work the tyres quite well. Into Saturday, the performance was definitely there as we got both cars into Q3. The race was disappointing as without retirements both drivers would have scored a good chunk of points.
What are your initial thoughts of the relative performance of the car?
We are reasonably happy. We look like we could be regular Q3 contenders but there is more that we want to be doing such as closing the gap to Williams and moving away more from the group behind us. There is more to do!
What were the technical issues experienced over the weekend and can they be rectified?
There was a problem with the charge air system where a leak developed and this happened to both cars on Friday. With a bit of work and a few changes we had the initial problem fixed, however unfortunately we saw something similar on Sunday on Romain’s car. We had done over 4,000kms in winter testing and that issue hadn’t occurred so it is a bit strange that it happened now. When you are at the track it can be challenging to solve such an issue rapidly nonetheless we are now rectifying the issue at the factory. We have a couple of different approaches and we’re doing extensive testing to ensure we have a robust solution.
How much work was required to Pastor’s car after the impact?
The left hand side suspension, the floor and the front wing were damaged so quite a reasonable amount of work was required but it will be ready for the first practice session in Malaysia.
What could have been possible in the race in Melbourne?
If we didn’t experience the unfortunate crash and the charge air system leak, we could probably have been looking at fifth and sixth positions. Both drivers had qualified ahead of Felipe Nasr who ended the race fifth and our long run performance on Friday looked good so there is no reason why our drivers could not have achieved that.
How much is there yet to come from the E23?
A fair bit I’d say. It’s a brand new car and there is quite a lot of aero development work to do; we will be pushing developments all through the year for it. We are happy as we have a good platform to work from. The drivers enjoy driving the E23; they find it is a consistent car they are able to push to the limit quite well. It’s great to have this basis to work from as it means that we can focus on adding performance.