Lotus head towards the inaugural Korean Grand Prix this weekend in a buoyant move after recording their best ever finish last time out in Suzuka.
Heikki Kovalainen took advantage of one quarter of the field failing to finish as he came home twelfth – all but securing Lotus the lucrative tenth spot in the constructors’ championship.
“I left Suzuka on Monday morning still buzzing after such a great race,” recalls the Finn. “I said then that the car was just fantastic to drive, and all drivers pray for days like that – it meant so much to the whole team, and our fans, for us to go one better than we did in Australia. That sort of result gives us a huge boost as the season draws towards the end, particularly because we were so far ahead of both Virgins – while they have kept updating their car at each race, we've been working on 2011 and haven't updated our car since Silverstone, so to stay that far ahead is a major result.
“I'm looking forward to Korea. It's new for all of us, and while I've had a bit of a look at the layout, the first couple of laps will be all about finding the right lines, and then we will focus on setups. To be honest, it won't take long to get to grips with the track and I think the car will be ok there. It's a pretty typical modern circuit – a couple of long straights with heavy braking at the end, and then a mix of a few tighter corners and a couple more quicker ones, so we should be about where we were in Japan. If I get another set of tyres like my second set in Suzuka it'll be great, but whatever happens, we’re closer to tenth in the Championship now, and that's what it's all about.”
Jarno Trulli finished just behind his teammate in Japan and, like Kovalainen, is also looking forward to his first laps of the Korea International Circuit. “I really enjoyed Japan but it was good to get home!,” he said. “The whole team performed really well over the weekend, and we took a big step towards the end goal of tenth, so everyone left happy.
“Korea looks pretty good – Some drivers use simulators or even games to take a look at the lines, but I usually find my way around a new venue by running a few laps of the track on the Thursday. It's a good way to work out the stresses of the plane journey, and you get a view of where the braking and turn-in points are. Whatever happens, after a couple of laps I'll know my way around and where I can push, so it doesn't take long to acclimatise.”
Lotus Chief Technical Officer, Mike Gascoyne, pointed out that, with their newly announced gearbox deal with Red Bull, the team have much stronger targets in the future. However, he is just hoping to consolidate their dominance over Virgin and HRT this weekend in Korea.
“Looking back to Japan, we could not really have had a better weekend,” he said. “I think both Jarno and Heikki managed to extract every bit of performance they could from the cars, and that showed in our advantage over our nearest rivals in qualifying and in the race. We made a couple of announcements before the race about next year that showed how ambitious we really are, and there are more to come, but for now we go to Korea in a very positive frame of mind.
“It is always a bit of a step into the unknown when you go to a new venue, but we have completed a number of simulation programs at the factory that have given us a pretty good idea of how the car will behave on track. The big unknowns are what downforce levels to run, and how the track surface will stand up to the rigours of a full race weekend.
“We will find the right setup over the weekend, and any track issues are out of our control – it has been passed by the FIA so we will just go there and do our best. If there are any problems, it will be the same for everyone, so we cannot waste time worrying about what might happen – we will just focus on bringing both cars home in the race and taking another step closer to the end of the season.”
Tony Fernandes, team principal, is still excited about events in Suzuka, taking the opportunity to praise not only the drivers, but the entire team: “I am still smiling from what happened in Japan. The whole team deserved a result like that, and we were able to capitalise on what was a pretty crazy race by being in the right place at the right time. That was down to having experienced drivers who kept out of trouble on track and drove brilliantly all weekend, a team on the pitwall who made the right calls to give us the chance to grab 12th and 13th, and guys in the garage who put in the hard work to help us stay well ahead of our competition – all in all it was a fantastic team effort.”