The Lotus F1 Team arrive in Sochi for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix with hope they can score points for the first time since the Monaco Grand Prix in May. For Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, it has been a very difficult season, while both drivers still have Jules Bianchi’s health firmly in their minds after his crash last weekend in Japan.
“We all wish Jules the very best recovery,” said Bianchi’s fellow Frenchman Grosjean. “We know he is in the best hands so all we can do now is hope and pray. It was such difficult conditions and it looked like a freak occurrence.”
“All our thoughts are with Jules, his team and his family,” added Maldonado. “Even though we all know the danger of motorsport, no-one wants an accident like that to happen. We hope he makes a full recovery.”
Grosjean admits he is looking forward to the event in Russia, and believes the track could be a lot of fun to drive. He feels the setting looks impressive as well, and is looking forward to experiencing it this weekend.
“I’ve been driving the Sochi circuit on the simulator,” revealed Grosjean. “It didn’t look very sexy from the outside but it actually seems to be really good fun. There’s a great mix of corners and some good high-speed areas too. The setting looks to be pretty impressive with a new facility and one where there are mountains not far away as well as being right next to the Black Sea.
“For me, it’s also quite special to race at the site of and Olympic Games. I’m a huge fan of the Olympics and especially the Winter Olympics, because my grandfather competed in skiing events at the 1948 and 1952 events. Hopefully that will bring me some luck! It’s good to go to Russia as well. It’s such a big country. When you fly to Japan most of the time you seem to be just flying over Russia! I’ve been to Sochi once before in 2009 for a team event and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.”
Grosjean admitted that drivers tend to get to grips with a new track pretty quickly, but in the modern era the use of simulators enables drivers to try out the track before they even get to the circuit.
“Even without a simulator you get a basic idea of the track pretty quickly,” said Grosjean. “What the simulator does is let you speed up this process and make initial decisions about car set-up and so on. What the simulator can’t do for a new circuit is give a precise idea of the grip levels you will find, as it’s a surface we’ve never raced on before. With any new surface, we’d expect the grip levels to change over the course of the weekend, so that will be part of the challenge.
“We all face the same challenge, but there is an element of how good the driver and team are at quickly getting a handle on the track. Hopefully Sochi is a circuit which suits our car. We won’t know the answer to that till we get there!”
Team-mate Maldonado has also spent time in the simulator, and will be making his first visit to Russia for the grand prix. He knows that the track evolution, especially when it comes to grip, could be a big variable, and he insists the team need to be on top of their game to make sure that they are able to find the speed that other teams do as the weekend progresses.
“We’ve been preparing on the simulator, where the track looks very interesting,” said Maldonado. “It’s a long lap with some unusual corners. From the simulator work we should know more or less what the racing lines will be and when we arrive on Thursday we will double check as many things as we can. It’s good. I’m happy to go there. I’m happy every time Formula 1 opens the door to new countries. I saw some of the Winter Olympics but I’ve never been to Russia before, so it will be my first time.
“Everything is new and especially in terms of the surface there is no way for us to know how the track will develop during the weekend. In the past we saw situations like in Austin where the track was super slippery at the beginning and then session after session we were making improvements of two or three seconds. It’s vital to stay on top of everything because parts of the set-up that were working well might hold you back when you go five or six seconds a lap quicker. You can’t take anything for granted and it will be important to keep an open mind throughout the weekend. Have you ever been to Russia before? For me it will be an all-new experience, and one I’m looking forward to a lot. I’ve met many Russians and I know it’s a very big country which has changed a lot over the past decades so it will be very interesting to experience it for myself.”
With only four rounds to go, Maldonado is still seeking his first points of the season, and although the team’s focus is now on the 2015 car, he still believes that he could score some points before the season’s end. He admitted it has been a disappointing year, but despite the lack of results, he can look back at the season and find some positives.
“We are keeping focused and we still want to get the very best results possible,” insists Maldonado. “Even though it’s been a tough year, there are still improvements being made to the E22, so there’s still potential to get more points before the season ends. We’re also as a team starting to focus on 2015 in terms of some of our evaluations at the tracks so we can get as early a start as possible in terms of information for next year’s car.
“We all want to get good results so of course this has not been the year that me or the team has wanted. But there have been and there are many positives. Seeing how the team has reacted to all the problems we have faced has shown me many strengths. We have a very clear development path for next season as we have learnt many lessons about this latest generation of car. We have four races left this year, so there’s still time for some improved results and more lessons to be learnt.”