Q&A with Boullier and Allison
Lotus team boss Eric Boullier and tech boss James Allison review the British GP and look ahead to the German race at Hockenheim...
Q: Eric, what's your assessment of the British Grand Prix?
EB: Our cars set the two best laps of the race, both our drivers scored points and we kept third position in the Constructors' Championship... but we were expecting more. Apart from the difficult weather conditions, which were the same for everybody, part of the problem was once again our starting positions. We've got the pace to win a race, but the wrong slot on the grid!
Q: How have the Enstone staff members reacted to the team's performance at mid-season?
EB: Being third when reaching the halfway point of the season shows that we're not there by chance. With the E20, the team has demonstrated that it can bounce back after difficult times. I remember looking at the model in the wind tunnel with James Allison last winter. James and I were talking about the aerodynamic gains and mechanical choices made, about the strange look of the nose, about the encouraging figures recorded at that time. We were cautiously optimistic then, but our worst nightmare was always the same; that we would arrive in Jerez for the first winter test session, and everybody would have thought about something we forgot. Fortunately, it did not happen.
Q: Although the team has made a big step recently, it is not a world title contender yet...
EB: This situation is healthy. It shows that we are in control of our progress rate. Consistency seems very often to be the key in Formula 1. Once you've allocated yourself mid-term and long-term targets, you should focus on them and not let anything change your strategy. When Genii Capital arrived in Enstone, they immediately understood that fighting for the title within two years would be an impossible goal. They have taken it step by step. A lot of departments were re-structured, some processes were re-assessed, investments were made in key-areas and a new organization was set-up. It took time, but it had to be done. We can now build on solid ground.
Q: What would be a reasonable target for Hockenheim?
EB: That's a difficult one. Winning could be seen as a reasonable target considering our recent level of performance. This said, a podium could also be a fair goal to envisage. I think we should concentrate on the operational side of things and make sure that our preparations are perfect. Our car has not been the most reliable since Montreal, with KERS, differential, alternator and gearbox issues. We're doing our best to fix this situation. At Silverstone we dramatically improved our pitstops thanks to new procedures and new parts. In Hockenheim, some interesting development parts will appear on Friday. We're pushing, you see. We leave no stone unturned and want to have a much better second half of the championship.
Q: How are you feeling heading to Germany?
JA: I'm quite excited about it. The season seems to be getting stronger for us race-by-race. We should see pretty warm weather conditions in Germany, and nothing about that track should do anything other than fill us with confidence, so I'm feeling positive in that regard. I'm excited too because we've got some interesting new updates for Germany and we're looking forward to see how they work out.
Q: We're coming up to the halfway point in the season; how's the half-term report card looking?
JA: We're looking at a B+, 'could do better,' if we had a particularly stern teacher. Maybe a more generous one might give us an A-, 'shows a lot of promise'. On the negative side, we've had too many DNFs and we haven't been good enough in the qualifying sessions. But on the positive side, at each race weekend so far this year the car has looked pretty useful. So really we have to hope we can turn some of that promise into proper results in the next half of the year.
Q: Silverstone wasn't hot so there wasn't any opportunity to really put the alternator through its paces to see if any Valencia-type problems could re-occur. Is another potentially hot race a concern?
JA: There were no issues in Silverstone. RenaultSport reacted very quickly to the problem in Valencia and brought counter-measures to Silverstone. They also advised us about operating the car slightly differently to give the alternator more of an easy ride. Because of these factors, I'm fairly sure that we've moved comfortably into an area where the alternator is all right, but Viry won't rest there. They will plough away until they've got something that they absolutely know is bullet-proof and that may take a race or two longer.
Q: Romain had something of an issue on his last lap at Silverstone?
JA: It was a gearbox problem and we are very fortunate that Romain didn't have the problem earlier in the race. Unfortunately for Romain it means he'll take a five place grid penalty at Hockenheim, but he certainly showed at Silverstone that dropping down the order won't stop him challenging at the sharp end.
Q: Silverstone was the first race with our upgraded wheel guns, nuts and sockets - how did that go?
JA: I'm really very pleased with those. We didn't do the quickest stop of the weekend, but all of our stops were good. We are now on the same playing field as the other properly competitive teams in this important part of the race. I think as the season unfolds from here we'll be banging in a few really impressive times.
Q: How do we crack qualifying? We continually seem to show fastest race laps and consistent pace...
JA: We're getting there. Silverstone didn't flatter us at all. If you look at our P3 running at Silverstone, I suspect we would have been in contention for the front row, or second row for sure. So in a qualifying session which was mixed up by the rain, I don't think we can draw any strong conclusions. However, we are making progress in qualifying and we'll be in the mix for the first couple of rows in Hockenheim.
Q: Is it to do with the car not turning on the tires in the initial laps?
JA: Our car is notably easy on its tires, while this is a good characteristic in the main but presents us with a little bit of a headwind over a single lap. However, as the season has progressed we have improved our knowledge about how best to handle this characteristic and we are hopeful that our qualifying performances will improve.
Q: Final thoughts looking to Germany?
JA: We're hoping for a similarly strong performance from both of our drivers in the race, a bit better in qualifying, and with a little luck to start hounding Ferrari for second in the championship... maybe even opening up some clear water between us and McLaren in the process.