3 October 2012
Q&A: James Allison (Lotus)
After a learning experience at the Singapore Grand Prix, Lotus' technical director James Allison explains the performance challenges from the previous races and why he's feeling optimistic about the future for the Enstone team.
Talk us through the Singapore race weekend.
If the race was in isolation then I think we could say 'it was just a bad race, let's put it behind us', however it was the third in a sequence of uninspiring performances and therefore something that we need to arrest to ensure that we make the most of the six remaining races this season and give ourselves a little more of the bounce that we had earlier in the year.
Have we identified why Singapore failed to live up to expectations?
There wasn't a sole reason as to why we were sub-par in Singapore. The first explanation is that we didn't do a particularly good job on Friday with our starting set up on the car, so it took us until Saturday morning to be somewhere close to the mark and this leaves you a bit behind in the game. Secondly, some of the upgrades we had applied for Singapore did not perform, causing us to revert to an earlier configuration of the car. In the meantime the lion's share of our competitors had moved forwards. Finally, in the all-important qualifying session neither driver had a good lap when it counted. Kimi had a mistake at T1 on his Q2 lap and Romain had a rather dramatic Q3 lap meaning he wasn't able to repeat his earlier performances. From that point onwards, if you're back down the grid in Qualifying then that's usually where you'll stay on a tight street course.
How difficult is it introducing and validating upgrades with no testing and weather causing reduced running on a Friday.
The simulation methods in the factory are good, allowing around 70-80 per cent of the upgrades that we put on the car to work straight away with no problem. Of those that suffer birth pangs, a fair proportion are eventually found to perform as expected when given a second hearing. When you're not running dedicated track testing there's a whole raft of variables you're not in control of. The drivers might not get clear laps and with the track constantly evolving plus tyres not always being a new set for each run you do not have a stable baseline to compare against. These factors can cloud the assessment of a new part so, if you are struggling, then you very often remove them from the car out of an abundance of caution and look for a suitable opportunity in the future to have a second go with them.
Looking to Suzuka now, how do you feel it will suit the E20?
It's a track with a wide range of cornering speeds, but there are several very fast turns in the Silverstone mould; in particular Turn 1, the 'S' bends and 130R. These are features that have suited us so far but it's a tight season and, as we've shown, you really need to hit the ground running in order to have a good weekend.
How do you think our chances in the championship are going both for Drivers' and Constructors'?
Fourteen races in and we've had a handful of results that have allowed Ferrari to open up a small gap on us in the championship. We fight each weekend with strong and dedicated opposition who will leave us for dead if we take our eye off the ball for one moment, but the great thing about this sport is that the opportunity to do the same is always there for your team as well. Every weekend you have a chance at redemption and we're fortunate to have a number of items that we believe will improve our car over the remaining races. The gap to Ferrari is small in terms of the points available, so our goal over the next six races is to overtake them in the championship and to put Kimi back on a path that will allow him to close the gap to the front.
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