It has been an extremely busy week for the Lotus F1 Team following the Japanese Grand Prix an looking ahead to the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrome. The Enstone outfit secured a double points finish in Suzuka where Romain Grosjean finished the race in seventh place just ahead of Pastor Maldonado.
The outfit released a joint statement with Renault which stated that the French manufacturer will take a majority shareholding in the team and will be rebranded as the Renault F1 Team in 2016.
Their driver Romain Grosjean who confirmed this week that he will move on at the end of the season to join the newly formed Haas F1 Team in their debut season in 2016. Speaking ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, deputy team principal Frederico Gastaldi was asked:
How positive was it for the team to get a strong event on track in Suzuka?
Points mean prizes so we’re always out there to score as much and as often as possible. In Suzuka we saw two strong drives from Romain and Pastor which really underline the hunger from everyone at Enstone. No matter what the circumstances, we’ll keep fighting for our dinner.
What does the Sochi event bring to Formula 1?
It was a brand new event in 2014 and certainly exciting for everyone attending. F1 is a global spectacle and it shows the strength of the sport that we race in Russia. We have a very good Russian Formula 1 driver in the sport with Daniil Kvyat and at Enstone we had the first ever Russian F1 driver – our friend Vitaly Petrov – so we understand the market and enjoy the support we get from Russia.
Do you see Russia as an important market for F1 in the future?
Absolutely. We should be racing in the world’s biggest country. We have seen over the last 20 years or so, since the change from the Soviet Union, that the opportunities there are huge. The rapid expansion of the economy and the many big sporting events that are being held here over the next decade will make for great momentum in commercial opportunities. At Lotus F1 Team we are always investigating new markets and looking to expand the F1 experience for new audiences.
What can you say about the current situation with Renault?
It looks like we’re engaged to be married again, which is interesting as we’ve had a few relationships together before! It’s positive for the sport and it’s positive for Enstone that a company with the history and prestige of Renault is looking to strengthen its role in Formula 1. It’s true we’ve both experienced a few knocks over the years but we’ve also had some exceptional highs and that makes us all collectively exceptionally motivated to harness our resilience and show everyone what we can do.
The driver market is firming up for 2016, what’s the situation with the team?
We know that we can now publically say bonne chance to Romain who is headed to pastures new next year. He’s been a real asset to us over the years so we’ll certainly miss him. We know we have Pastor confirmed for one seat and we know that there are quite a few tasty drivers available out there and we’re doing everything to ensure that we’ve got a desirable race seat, which needs to be filled. What happens next is that there’ll be a number of discussions in a number of places then at some point we’ll have an announcement to make. I can at this stage publically confirm that it won’t be me driving.
How do you expect the rest of the season to play out for the team?
Hopefully with more action on track than off. It hasn’t been the easiest of years but we keep showing that we’re capable of performing well when it matters. It would be nice for Romain to have a good positive end to his Enstone career and it would be great for Pastor to have a strong run of results to bring his season to a close. We’re all working to those aims.
Romain Grosjean was asked about his decision to move:
You’ve been announced as headed for pastures new for next year: was it something we said?
Au contraire. I’m headed to a new team and a new and very different challenge in 2016 – it’s true – but it’s going to be very emotional for me to leave the team that I’ve been part of for so long. I’ve worked with Enstone for 10 years, we had ten podiums together and I took part in nearly 80 races… I have to say that the people at Enstone are the strongest group of people ever to keep pushing no matter what the circumstances. I had to think long and hard for the next step of my career.
Is it going to be an emotional ‘au revoir’?
Part of my heart will absolutely always be with Enstone where I’ve grown and experienced so much over the years. I can remember turning up in September 2005 at the front gate, not speaking English and being very shy. Some of the people I met that day are still there. I’m turning a new leaf in my book but it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the book so why not come back to Enstone one day to become World Champion with the team! Leaving Enstone at the end of the season won’t be easy… I promised everyone some beers in December when I come to say goodbye to the factory. Until then we’ve got five races left yet this season and I’m absolutely determined to end my time with the greatest high possible.
What’s the battle-plan for Sochi?
It would be fantastic to shake up the order again and get a really strong result, and that’s honestly what we’re always trying to do. It’s a pretty decent circuit and it will be interesting to see how it’s matured. Certainly the track surface will have changed and it will have settled somewhat. We struggled massively for grip last year, but we’ve got a softer tyre allocation from Pirelli, the performance of which we should be better equipped to maximise. It will be a good exercise for us to see if we can give a better performance than our first Russian Grand Prix.
What did you think of your first experience in Sochi last year?
For me it was special to race at the site of an 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. The facility itself was fantastic and the track really well engineered. The entire site had its own unique flavour. It’s always great to see how an event matures and I know we have many Russian fans. It would be superb to see as many as possible there supporting us.
What’s the track like to drive?
It’s a pretty cool track actually with a useful number of straights and some big braking. You’ve got turn three which is just about flat out which is good fun. The corners flow well together with the final section a bit more tight and twisty. Last year was hard to get the tyres working, this year the Pirelli allocation is softer. Looking outside of the driver requirements, the facilities are really nice and the paddock is a friendly size so it’s a good one to work in.
What are the benefits of your second time at a track?
We won’t get lost going to the track in the morning! This is a good first step. We know what to expect, what the track is going to be like, we know the setup and what’s needed for a good race. I think it could well be a strong race for the E23.
Pastor Maldonado was asked about how his points finish in Japan helps him going to Russia.
Suzuka was a solid race for you, how does that help you heading to Sochi?
You always approach a race on its own merits so my outlook heading to Russia is not affected by what happened in Japan. It was positive for us to have a solid race and get some good points, of course, but that is what we try to achieve at every race, regardless of what happened at the one before. Equally, if we have a race like Suzuka for all of the remaining events it would be a strong end to the year.
What were your first impressions of Sochi last year?
It was a great and amazing event, really well organised and with a good attendance. It was a special experience to arrive at a new country for Formula 1 – and a new country for me – then see strong immediate support like we did. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing how they built upon their strong first event.
What was it like when you drove the track for the first time?
It’s always a strange experience. You don’t know exactly how it will be, even though you’ve walked the track it’s very different when you’re sat in the car and actually driving. You have to push to the limit to realise the fastest way around. It’s a very technical circuit. Last year we saw the grip level improve a lot over the course of the weekend as it was new which meant we really needed to work hard on the setup to maintain the balance and get the car working as well as it could.
What do you think of the Sochi layout?
There are very many corners, with a couple of sections of stop and go. It’s quite a long lap and a reasonably technical one too. If you make a small mistake in one corner, you are punished for the rest of the lap. If you’re off line for one corner, it might not be until one of the straights that you can recover. Off-line is very slippery too so you’re doubly punished! Every single part of this track is important! In terms of enjoyment, I like the first sector the most, but it’s a good track overall.
How much easier is it heading there for a second time?
It will be much easier this year. Last year was all about discovery and learning; this year we should be several steps forward so be able to unlock more pace quicker.
Romain’s headed elsewhere for 2016, any thoughts on who you would like as a team-mate?
Honestly I have no preference. Throughout your career you work with a variety of team-mates so you get used to working with different people. Ultimately, everyone is trying to make the car faster and perform as well as it can for an event, so you’re all working to the same objectives.
We’ve seen the outline race calendar for 2016, what are your thoughts?
Firstly, as a driver you want to race as much as possible so I’m looking forward to 21 races. It looks like a good line-up of events and it will be interesting to visit races such as Malaysia and Russia at different times of the year as well as Baku for the first time.
Renault have signed a letter of intent to buy Lotus F1 Team, what does this mean for you?
This is positive news and I’m looking forward to things progressing here. I’ve worked with Renault in the past and know that they are real racers. I know Enstone always works very hard and we’ve seen what the Enstone and Renault combination has achieved in the past. Let’s hope there are great things ahead.