Lotus Racing hope to make a big step forward in next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix as they bring significant upgrades to Barcelona.
During the first four races of the season, Lotus have established themselves as the best of the new teams, and now want to mount a challenge to the more established outfits, including Sauber and Toro Rosso.
It has been two weeks since the last race in China, and in that time the team have had to find a way back to Norfolk through the Icelandic ash cloud, fit substantial upgrade packages to the race cars and fly to Barcelona to prepare for the European leg of the F1 season.
Technical director Mike Gascoyne explains why the team should make bigger performance gains in Spain than their rivals: “All the teams will have upgrades for Barcelona, but we're hoping that ours is even more significant than our rivals because we received our entry so late and had to freeze the initial specification of the car very early in the design process.
“We do expect it to be reasonably significant – we have an aero package with revised sidepods, front wings and brake ducts, and a number of mechanical changes, but obviously we'll have to wait and see what step forward our rivals will also make.”
The Monaco Grand Prix is a week after the Spanish race and the tight, twisty streets of Monte Carlo will provide a totally different challenge for the teams. “It's a unique place in terms of its configuration. Everyone runs maximum downforce and obviously it's a very tight, bumpy street circuit,” explains Gascoyne. “The experience our two drivers bring, combined with the progress we've made at the factory and on track, gives me confidence we'll put in a good showing at both races.”
In Hingham, Norfolk, the Lotus Racing factory has undergone changes while the race team have been flying around the world for the first four events. Gascoyne is very pleased with the transformation. “It's very gratifying to see the whole factory in full operation, with every department now nearly fully staffed but starting to work to their full potential. This means we can now look at more long-term development and R&D programmes, and start thinking about future cars. We're through the hardest part of the team's growth and we're on a very good footing for the future.”
Heikki Kovalainen has been in Switzerland and Finland since flying back from China with the team. Relaxing and training have been the priorities for the Finn, who has also taken to the golf course while awaiting the beginning of the European season.
“It's always good to get to Barcelona as it's where most of the teams bring their first big updates,” says Kovalainen. “It's a very fast track and all the teams spend a lot of time there in pre-season, so we know it very well, but it's the complete opposite to racing in Monte Carlo. In Barcelona there are more chances to overtake but nowhere else has the same glamour or prestige as Monaco. It's so busy there on track there's no time to relax, and there are no run off areas so you pay heavily for any mistakes. I really like street circuits – you are rewarded for good car control so I'm looking forward to getting on track and seeing what steps forward we've taken with the updates.”
Trulli, who claimed his one grand prix victory at Monaco in 2004, has been spending time with his family after making it back from Shanghai. He thinks that the upcoming modifications to his Lotus will help competitiveness. “I think I've had a fair bit of bad luck so far, but I'm looking to put that behind me and see how much further forward we can go with the updates. I've kept in close touch with the team about the tests they've put the car through, and am encouraged by the results they've had. I think we'll take a good step forward in Spain.
“I like Barcelona – we all know every bit of it very well as we test there a lot, and have raced there for years. Monaco is obviously a very special place for me – a lot of my fans will be out in force, and I love going back to where I've won, so that'll be a busy, but good week.”
Team principal Tony Fernandes couldn’t be happier with the way his new team have started the season. “We're back in Europe and I couldn't be more pleased with the position we arrive in. The first phase of Lotus Racing's life is now behind us, and the next challenge starts here. We've proved all the doubters wrong, and have shown that the hard work everyone in the team puts is making the dream we share come true.
“I remember the immense pride I had when I first saw the cars run in the pre-season tests in Spain, and in Barcelona we're back, ahead of the other new teams and with a new package that will help us push on closer to the next goal, which is to take on the midfield. Ultimately it's about taking Lotus Racing to the front of the grid and this marks the next step in that journey.
“On a personal level I've always loved coming to Spain, and with Monaco straight afterwards I'm very excited about seeing how our fanbase is growing into the traditional heartland of Formula One. We've broken new ground in Australia, Asia and China and now we're back at the scene of some of the most famous moments in the Lotus history.”