This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit will be the last time that we see the black and gold livery of the Lotus F1 Team as the name disappears from Formula One.
In 2016, the Enstone outfit will be branded as the Renault F1 Team in a deal that looks set to be concluded in the coming days which will see Renault regain control of the team they sold to Gerard Lopez and in doing so completing their return to Formula One works team status.
Not only is it the end of the season but it is also the end of an era as the Enstone outfit will say goodbye to Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman competes for the team for the final time before he moves to the new Haas F1 Team in 2016.
Taking part in a Q&A session before the final race of the season, Lotus F1’s Deputy Team Principal Frederico Gastaldi was asked:
What does Abu Dhabi mean to the team?
It’s a serious market for everyone in the sport and it has been very fruitful for us in the past. There is plenty of potential in the region. And it has proven to deliver great racing for us. 2012 was a particularly enjoyable year there of course. For 2015, the long straights will be good for our current car. Hopefully we can have a good performance to end the season on the positive note that the factory and race crew deserve.
What are your highlights from Abu Dhabi as a place to visit?
I have mostly seen the circuit – that’s the nature of travelling in F1 really – but the entire facilities are state of the art for me and the combination of the circuit offset by the Yas Marina hotel is simply stunning. Hermann Tilke did a great job putting it all together. I would love to see more of Abu Dhabi; perhaps this year is the year!
How would you review this season?
In many ways, it has been a positive season. Yes, we have had a lot of ups and downs: lots of expectations, lots of frustrations, but as I keep saying our best asset is our people in Enstone and thanks to them we keep showing that, against all odds, against all constraints, we can have strong results. I can’t say that I am ecstatic about our season in terms of results, but it’s certainly much better than last year and while under much tougher circumstances. We aimed for fifth in the constructors’ championship and stayed in the fight most of the season despite the year’s constraints. Had things turned out differently, we had the car and the people to take us there – and even further up the order – no problem.
What did you think of the Brazilian Grand Prix?
We had a steady weekend, with FP3 showing that we had good pace. Unfortunately we had a disappointing qualifying session; I know we could have achieved better positions. The race gave us a good opportunity to show our level of performance and we moved up the field accordingly. Had we started higher up the grid, we could have been fighting for better positions easily.
Mexico, Brazil… what would it take for there to be an Argentinian Grand Prix again?
It’s up to Mr Ecclestone really, and I believe that is something he would like to make happen. It’s something we discussed in Brazil and we have to see what the upcoming election in Argentina will yield. A lot of people there want F1 to come back to the country. Whether it comes back, and how, will have much to do with Mr E. We will see what the future holds!
How do you think the pairing of Pastor and Jolyon will fare in 2016?
They already know each other well which is a definite advantage. They have a good relationship, they like each other, and I think they make a good pairing. Jolyon will be the rookie, an experienced one thanks to his time in FP1 this year, but he still has a lot of learning ahead of him and Pastor, with five years in Formula 1, can help there as much as we will. We hope to have a good car again next year, and with that, both will have the opportunity to show their best performances.
What are the key challenges facing F1 looking to next season?
I believe it is crucial for Formula 1 to review its business model. There are so many financial issues throughout the sport, whether for teams or promoters, that it is hard to see where things will go. I know that both Mr Ecclestone and the FIA have been trying to change things and I also know that teams aren’t always the easiest to work with when we have to join forces. Our agendas and situations differ too much and are almost always preceded with self-preservation. Additionally, and I have said this before, we have to do everything that we can – all of us – to help promoters sell tickets. Without fans, where would we be?
For Romain Grosjean it is set to be an emotional weekend as the Frenchman will take part in his final Grand Prix for the Enstone outfit who he first became involved with in 2006. Grosjean was asked:
Are you French-Swiss or Swiss-French?
It depends who wins during a competition, whether it’s tennis, football, skiing…
What are your thoughts on Yas Marina as a Grand Prix venue?
It’s a good track with very nice paddock facilities which in my opinion are amongst the best on the calendar. It’s also a very special Grand Prix given that it starts in the day and finishes under lights, which makes it incredible for the fans as they can see through our visors and watch how hard we are concentrating. It’s also pretty good for me as I can get up a bit later on race day! The weekend is a bit unusual as it can be difficult to work on car set-up in FP1 and FP3 as conditions are not representative of those you’ll find in qualifying and the race. This means FP2 becomes even more important for both the engineers and myself, which makes it a rather crucial session.
How are you approaching the last race of the season?
I’ll be fighting all the way. There’s no point holding back in the race or over the weekend. It’s the last time the E23s will be used in race action so I’ll be looking to give my car a good send off. The engine will be turned up to eleven, I’ll be racing my heart out and I know all the guys and girls at Enstone want to see a great end to the season.
You made a great start and vault up the order in Brazil; could we see more of the same in Abu Dhabi?
Part of the reason I was able to make a great start and work through the order in the Brazilian Grand Prix was because of my mistakes in qualifying the day before. Certainly I’ll be looking to qualify well and work my way forwards in Abu Dhabi. The Brazilian weekend was tough as there were a lot of emotions because of all the terrible events in Paris and that affected us all. Abu Dhabi is a different event and we’re all focused on a strong weekend to end the season.
Do you have anything special planned to mark the end of your time at Enstone.
Of course the priority over the race weekend is to score as many points as possible, but it will be quite poignant to be having my last meetings, meals, track walk and other things with the team. I’ve shared so many good and also so many character-building times through my years at Enstone so we’ll have some good laughs. Of course, before I leave Enstone I will make a visit to the factory to see all the people I’ve worked with over so many years. I’m sure that will be an emotional day.
What do you have planned after the season ends?
Firstly, and most importantly, I’m looking forward to spending as much time as possible with my loved ones. Recent events really bring home how important it is to cherish life, your family and your friends. My family is very young so I’m spending some magical time with them, even if I do get more sleep sometimes when I’m on the road! It’s important to get as much mental and physical rest as you can when the season is over and for me there’s the additional challenge that I’ll be working in a very different environment for 2016.
What do you know about being a CNC machine operator?
I’ve learnt quite a bit about CNC machines during my time in the factory at Enstone, but certainly I’m going to learn a whole lot more in the future!
Pastor Maldonado heads into the final race of the season looking to end the year with a strong result having suffered a tough 2015 campaign. The Venezuelan will have a new team mate at Enstone next season with Jolyon Palmer making the step up to a race seat replacing Romain Grosjean.
Maldonado was asked:
Tell us about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; is it an event you enjoy?
It’s always a special event and being the final race of the year makes it all the more exciting. The venue is fabulous and the facilities are the very best Formula 1 can offer. Even though the event is amongst the busiest, the ease with which everything happens makes it quite a relaxing one when you’re out of the car. It’s easy to get in and out of the track and the team hospitality buildings are immense. Away from the track, the people are always really welcoming, the weather is great and the place is spectacular.
What about the Yas Marina Circuit? Is it a track you enjoy driving?
Yes, it’s a good track to drive. The first sector at the circuit stands out with Turns 2, 3 and 4 being particularly enjoyable and the final sector is pretty eye-catching, even if you do have a lot of work to do behind the wheel at this section. The event format is interesting because of half the practice sessions being during the day, when the race itself is in early evening. This means you have a little bit less data in race representative conditions, but we’ve been to Abu Dhabi many times so the engineers are pretty good at working out what to do.
How was your Brazilian Grand Prix?
We didn’t qualify where we wanted and in the race we used a different tyre strategy to help us fight back. It was a good race in the car and one where you had to be patient at the start when using the harder tyres than those around you, then push hard when you’re on softer tyres to your rivals. It worked well, even if it was frustrating when the other cars were on the faster Pirellis – as it must have been frustrating for them when I was the one able to attack. To get P10 after starting in P15, especially at this late stage of the season, was a positive result.
What’s your view on the incident with Marcus Eriksson at Interlagos?
There’s a saying that rubbing’s racing. In Formula 1 it sometimes feels like you get penalised for every bit of contact. I went for a gap that was there – and we all want to see overtaking in Formula 1 – and he closed the gap whilst defending his position. I saw it as a racing incident, and on a corner like turn one in Brazil the driver on the outside will usually come off worse. We spoke after the race and all’s fine between us. I think pretty much the same would have happened if positions were reversed and he had tried the same move on me.
What do you have planned for the offseason?
Much as I love racing I do also love my family so I’m looking forward to spending time with them. I’ll also get some time back in Venezuela where I always enjoy spending time. You can relax more mentally over the winter months, but you always keep up your training regime. My priority is to come back to 2016 stronger than ever.
Do you think there will be any difference in being de facto the leading driver for the team in 2016?
Some teams operate with a number one and number two driver but certainly for my time at Enstone both drivers have always been given equal status and opportunity. For sure, I’ll be the more experienced driver next year and I’ll be doing everything I can to ensure strong results are possible for myself and Jolyon in 2016.