2015 Spanish Grand Prix, Preview
Friday 1st May
Lotus F1 Team previews the fifth race weekend of the 2015 Formula 1 season, the Spanish Grand Prix.
Drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado share their thoughts on the challenges of Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, while Technical Director Nick Chester and Deputy Team Principal Federico Gastaldi give the latest on the team and on the E23 Hybrid.
Lotus F1 Team Deputy Principal Federico Gastaldi looks forward to the first European race of the season eager for more points and success.
How much does the team look forward to racing in Spain?
We all love Barcelona and the surrounding countryside. Spain and the Spanish people are wonderful and I have a lot of friends as well as family there. In terms of a racing challenge, it’s a fascinating event as it’s where every team should be operating at their maximum potential at this time of the season as the circuit is so well known to us all. There are no excuses if you can’t get your car set-up or working well at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya!
What has been keeping the team busy since Bahrain?
We’ve been working hard on improving the E23 and how we use it, whether through the progress made in our technical debriefs, or the parts being fabricated here in Enstone. Elsewhere we also took the car to Brands Hatch for our filming day, which we opened to the public. This is something we’ve done historically behind closed doors where we have contractual obligations with partners for moving images and the like so it’s a full day. We looked at things a little differently this year and asked ‘why don’t we open the doors to fans who want to attend’. Thankfully we have a fantastic relationship with Jonathan Palmer and MotorSport Vision and they shared our vision. It was fantastic to have so many fans take a day off work to come visit us and it’s definitely something we’ll do again.
Anything exiting planned for the first European race?
There’s potential for some things which could open some eyes in Barcelona and then at the next race in Monaco too. It’s fair to say it’s busy times at Enstone.
What are your thoughts on Romain’s championship charge?
Romain delivered another textbook driving display in Bahrain and he continues to impress us and other seasoned F1 observers with his on track prowess. He is very focused this year and this means he’s making the most of every moment in the car. We know as soon as we can unlock a little more pace from the E23, there will be even stronger results to come.
Pastor has had more of a difficult start to his year, what are the team doing to ensure he can get the maximum from the E23?
We’re still waiting for those first 2015 points with Pastor and no-one wants them more than the man himself. Pastor is driving really well and has been the victim of other drivers’ mistakes rather too much this year. We know he likes the E23 and can get it to deliver very good pace. Pastor enjoyed great success in Barcelona a few years ago so hopefully that is a good omen for him.
Jolyon is being kept busy in and out of the car?
It’s always a notable step for a driver to go from focusing on contesting the GP2 Series championship to having a very different role at a Formula 1 race team. We’re keeping him very busy with his in-car duties and he has impressed us with his pace, application and feedback from his FP1 sessions so far. Out of the car there has been a lot of interest in him and he’s kept busy with media duties. Of course, like any driver, he’d like to be racing, but he’s definitely not sitting about being bored!
It’s Carmen’s home race – how is she gelling with the team?
Carmen has gone down really well with the team and it is a pleasure working with her. It’s been a surprise just how much attention she’s received. She has been hard at work in the simulator this week at Enstone and I think some aspects of the F1 set-up have been eye-opening for her. Certainly the step from GP3 – where she raced for the past three seasons – to Formula 1 is a large one but she’s applied herself well.
Romain on Brands and Barcelona, driving with his eyes closed and the bloody French!
What does heading to Barcelona mean for you?
Barcelona means the start of the European season. That means we can travel less, which is good as you soon get bored of those long haul flights, even if the destinations are great when you get there! It also means we see quite a lot more updates on the cars, which can make everything interesting. We’ve had a couple of weeks since Bahrain and it’s only a short flight from Enstone to the circuit so there’s been a decent amount of time for some more developments to the car. The fans have a great spirit in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city full of culture that I really enjoy.
How do you like being on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya itself?
It’s a circuit we’ve seen pretty often in your career so I know it well, and I have some good memories from the past. It was our best circuit last year, and I also finished fourth back in 2012 as well as setting the fastest lap. It is a circuit everyone knows backwards, so as a team we go to Barcelona intent on getting much more performance from the car.
Any idea how many laps you’ve done around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya? Do you think you could drive a lap with your eyes closed?
It’s almost impossible to know. I’ve driven many, many laps of the circuit in F1 and in different junior series I’ve competed in. I’ve drawn the track my eyes closed in the past….Trying to drive a lap eyes closed in the simulator at the end of a day’s work could be fun. I’ll do it next time I’m in Enstone; I’ll let you know how I get on!
What are your favourite parts of the circuit?
I quite like the first section of the circuit in particular; it’s fast and you get a lot of grip from the car as you can really feel the downforce pushing you hard to the road. I’m a bit less of a fan of the final sector which is twisty but that’s where you can make the most lap time improvement so it’s important to get it right.
What do you feel about the level of competition in F1 in 2015?
It’s pretty exciting. We see some good races with us fighting hard in the pack. Up front we’ve seen some good dicing and Ferrari have shown that Mercedes is not invincible.
How is the relationship with your new race engineer?
He’s bloody French! On a serious note, it’s going well. We started our working relationship on the right footing and we understand each other very well. All this is very important to make things work properly.
How do you review your first four races of the season?
In terms of performance we have achieved a one hundred percent record in reaching Q3 which is a very good result. We could have done more in the first two races had we not had a few issues but I think that we got everything right from China onwards. It’s very good to be in the top ten in qualifying and then play with the strategy in the race. I’m happy with the points we have scored these last couple of races, let’s now get more at every race and continue to improve.
You were in Enstone this week, what keeps you busy when you visit?
There is always a lot to fit in when I come to Enstone. On Tuesday, I did simulator work with my engineers. I was also checking a few more details regarding my seating position in the car to make it even more comfortable – it’s quite key to be sat well during the race. We had a very busy day on Monday for our filming day at Brands Hatch Circuit. There were a lot of partner commitments to fulfil as well as some media commitments, but the best bit was seeing that so many fans had come down to watch us for the day!
Finally, how far off is baby number two and do you expect that could affect your home sleep strategy?
It probably will impact my sleep strategy but my wife is very understanding and knows that I need to be well rested when I go to the race track. The baby’s due in the next 15 days and I’m hoping that I’ll be home when it comes! If that’s not the case, I’ll win the race and will dedicate it to our new baby!
Poised and hungry for his first points of the season, Pastor Maldonado is eager to ensure his championship charge is switched on at the location of his 2012 Grand Prix win.
The Spanish Grand Prix holds a special place for you…
It’s very special – mostly because we see a lot of Venezuelan support there, also because it’s the first race back in Europe, and of course, because it’s nice to have won there. Hopefully we’ll see a good result there for the team and some points for me!
Tell us about the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Overall Catalunya is tough for the cars, drivers and teams because everyone knows the track so well and you have to fight for every thousandth of a second. There are obviously races that are much closer to Venezuela in a geographic sense, but Barcelona is special for me because there is a huge community of Venezuelans close by and of course my mother tongue is Spanish. So I hope to see a lot of flags around the track and some great support as usual. It’s always good to race in front of your fans and I am determined to continue my good record here. The circuit has certainly been very good for me in the past, with the win in 2012 being the highlight. A top ten in qualifying will be our first focus and then it’ll be a very tough race in terms of tyre management, with a lot of pit stops and strategy.
What will be your target this year in Barcelona?
To win…! The aim is always to get 100% from the package, to know we’ve achieved the best possible. So a win might not be on the cards just yet but we are definitely able to fight for good points.
How would you review your first four races of the season – what have been the positives and where can improvements be found?
It was a complicated start to the season, the first four races were tough. It wasn’t easy to be hit by other drivers for both Australia and Malaysia! I think we learnt a lot from the first two races however as we made a good jump in performance by the Chinese Grand Prix because we had learnt so much about our car. We are closer to our rivals, the teams we’re targeting for the championship, and our race pace improved significantly. It’s getting better and better.
How would you evaluate the E23 Hybrid this first quarter of the 2015 season?
It’s a good car. Immediately, the first day we tested the E23, the potential was clearly there. There are still areas to develop but it’s looking very good. If we go back just a few months ago to where we were with the E22, it’s a huge improvement in comparison. It’s not just the change of engine, the chassis is working much better. The entire package has good potential for this season.
You’ve been here at Enstone this week to do some simulator work, how important is it for your and the team’s preparation for the next race?
It’s very important. We start with a debrief in a way, where we compare the simulator runs with the race we have just completed, to make sure that the information we get from the sim is as accurate as possible. If not, we work to make it more realistic, and if it’s okay, we move on to testing various things for the next races.
What do you remember about the win in 2012?
It was a great day in my career, a strong race and victory over Fernando Alonso in his home event. We really deserved it because we did it on merit and under big pressure from the Ferrari all race. People forget that we were outside the top ten on Friday and then everything came together. We qualified second – pole after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified – and I knew there was a chance to win the race. I just felt so calm and ready to win. That weekend, after being 17th in first practice, shows why you must never give up in Formula 1. It also gave me more confidence because my first year in F1 had been difficult, but as soon as the car was competitive I was up there, fighting with the top drivers. My mentality changed and this now drives me forward when times are tough.
MOVING ON UP
Heading to a familiar foe in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Lotus F1 Team Technical Director Nick Chester dissects what the team needs to do to move up the order.
What can the team expect from Barcelona and will we see a traditional big upgrade package for this race?
It will be an interesting weekend as many teams will bring decent upgrades to the first European race of the season and we are working on bringing a reasonably significant package in terms of bodywork upgrades ourselves. There’s a certain amount of anticipation to see what everyone turns up with. In terms of our expectations, there’s nothing to say that we shouldn’t have another strong race in Barcelona, just as we did in China and Bahrain.
Last year we saw a strong qualifying performance from the team in Barcelona in what was generally a very character-building season – why the ‘freak’ strong result?
Indeed, we did have a good weekend last year in Barcelona. The E22 was good in high speed corners but not so good in low speed corners. This year’s car is much more consistent in all corners. The drivers are complimentary about the handling of the car finding it much easier to drive on the limit and we seem to be in a similar position at each track we have visited so far this year. It’s far more what we all want from a car.
Are the practice sessions treated any differently with the sheer breadth of knowledge that teams and drivers have of the circuit?
Not so much. We tend to spend a lot of the first session checking out new parts and working on new ideas. This is now common practice for us on Friday mornings. Barcelona tends to be that bit easier as the drivers and the team know the circuit so well. Also, Romain, Pastor and Jolyon have all come to Enstone these last few days for simulator sessions based on the track. The work we are doing is proving very useful for the team and is great for pre-event preparations.
What do we know of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and what challenges does it present?
It’s a circuit that needs really strong downforce which really is key in Barcelona with so many high speed corners. The third sector is slightly different in that the car needs to be able to ride the kerbs well through the chicanes. That said, you can’t get away from the fact that the main element is the amount of downforce you have on the car.
Romain’s had two P7 finishes now – how can we help vault him and Pastor further up the order?
It’s been good for Romain to have had these two strong finishes. He has a car that he’s happy with and a good solid baseline in terms of set-up and performance. Pastor will benefit from a clean race to collect points. Both cars are capable of strong results. For stronger finishes than P7 we need to continue to develop the car to make it more competitive: put more downforce on the car and continue with our upgrade programme.
How competitive is the field overall this season?
Certainly, it’s pretty competitive in the midfield and fighting to be at the head of the chasing pack. Mercedes are still the team to beat this season although Ferrari is giving them a chase at the moment. There is a fairly big gap to Willliams who are followed by Red Bull and us – there is a smaller gap there and we can race them.