Lotus Racing say they are ‘confident of putting on a good show’ in Monte Carlo this weekend after putting some distance between themselves and the other new teams in Barcelona.
In Jarno Trulli, the team have a driver who has tasted victory around the streets of Monaco, and the experienced Italian is well aware of the challenges (and rewards) that the street circuit offers. “It's something very special in Monaco. Whether you're driving or just walking around, you can almost breathe in how exciting it is. Every driver in the world wants to win here, and I was lucky enough to do so in '04, but the whole experience can be tough – it's important for us to concentrate on the race, and here you're under so much pressure it can be difficult to get the time to think, and concentrate on the actual race, but that's how it is, so we deal with it.
“Getting in a good lap is also a challenge, but if you can manage the traffic it's very satisfying. One of the most important parts of the circuit is through the swimming pool – you change direction at high speed, then brake for the next chicane, which is slow but you still need to get through it quickly.
“You jump over the kerbs there, not too much or you launch yourself into the wall, but just enough to carry the speed through. That's why concetration levels are important – get that right every time and you're ok – if not, you're out.”
Technical problems prevented Heikki Kovalainen from starting last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix and the Finn is yet to try out the new upgraded T127 in a race. However, he enjoys tracks like Monaco, thinks the car will go well around the principality, and has been playing golf with his boss in the build-up to this race: “I obviously didn't get the chance in Barcelona to build on the step forward we took with the updates so I'm looking forward to getting back on track and pushing on.
“It's so busy on track in Monaco there's no time to relax, and there are no run off areas so you pay heavily for any little mistakes, but I really like street circuits as they reward good car control, and I think we'll be pretty good here from how the car felt in Spain.
“I've managed to get a round of golf in with Tony since we left Barcelona, and it's probably not fair to say how he got onâ€¦ but generally it'll be good to get out on track again and keep up the momentum we've had all year.”
Technical director Mike Gascoyne agrees with Kovalainen that the car should suit the street circuit, and is looking forward to facing the challenges the venue provides. “Monaco is obviously a unique place. I enjoy walking around as you realise what a mad place it is to race cars! Engineering wise it's a major challenge – it's very bumpy with lots of slow corners and qualifying is critical as it's almost impossible to overtake, but I still love it!
“We should do ok here – we're good in the slow speed sectors and both our guys are experienced in dealing with the bumps and the traffic, particularly Jarno whose win here was very special, so all in all I'm looking forward to it.”
Another challenge facing the team this week is getting everything packed up in Barcelona straight up in the race, and having everything in place in the principality by today (Wednesday), ready for the first two practice sessions on Thursday. Lotus Team Manager Graham Watson has been giving some insight into the logistical nightmare this scheduling has thrown up: “The challenge really begins as soon as the Spanish Grand Prix finishes as we have to pack up everything there and then get it all over to Monaco in time to try and finish setting up by Tuesday night.
“We have some very experienced truckies and mechanics in the team, who know their way around the confines of the Monaco paddock, and that definitely helps us make sure we can meet all our engineering deadlines, and have the cars ready to go out on track on Thursday morning.
“We may be one of the new teams, and we definitely don't have as much equipment yet as some of the more established names, but we're still able to pack in everything we need to cope with any eventuality over the weekend, including a composite and fabrication workshop on site, which hopefully won't be needed, but with the nature of Monaco in mind, are necessities here.”
The final word goes to Team Principal Tony Fernandes, who is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of Monaco on grand prix weekend: “I've been coming to Monaco ever since AirAsia first came into the sport as a sponsor, and it's somewhere I love coming to. It'll be great being here with Lotus Racing – pretty emotional as Lotus has so much history here. It'll be a special moment for me and a huge amount of fans to see the green and yellow on track again, so I can't wait for Thursday and to see the cars out there at what's almost their third home race!”