It may not bear any resemblance to the original Colin Chapman-led powerhouse, but Team Lotus F1 will not be doing anything by halves when it makes its grand prix debut in 2010, esteemed technical director Mike Gascoyne assures.
Lotus will be one of four newcomers on the starting grid next season, alongside fellow British operation Manor, North Carolina-based USF1 and Spanish outfit Campos Meta, and it has recruited the highly-regarded Gascoyne to spearhead the development of its first car.
Born out of British F3 contender Litespeed, the Norfolk-based concern has secured crucial backing from wealthy Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes – a man credited with having spectacularly turned around the ailing fortunes of budget airline Air Asia – with the goal of ultimately raising the profile of motor racing in the Far Eastern country, which has only ever had one representative at the highest level, Alex Yoong.
Though Litespeed was originally turned down by the FIA when the initial F1 2010 entry list was published back in June, the subsequent announcement that BMW is to withdraw from competition at season's end and resultant uncertainty over the fate of Sauber released a fourth available slot – which Lotus was granted. The part played in that by Fernandes, Gascoyne urges, should not be underestimated – and now the team must make absolutely sure that it takes full advantage of its 'second chance', even if the late notice has arguably left it at a disadvantage in relation to its rivals in terms of preparation.
“We didn't get through because the package wasn't complete,” the 46-year-old told Crash.net Radio
, reflecting on the first abortive bid, “but then Tony came along and brought the backing from Malaysia and was able to get Proton on-board. That really brought to fruition the idea that Litespeed had had, in providing the financial backing that was necessary.
“We liaised with the FIA, and they felt there may be chances of slots becoming available – which eventually did – so we kept our heads down and kept working, and we were overjoyed when we got the slot. Obviously the late announcement presents us with a much greater challenge – for all of the new teams it's a big challenge, and the late start for us has made it even more difficult – but challenges are what we relish, so we've just got to get on with it.
“It's very important to Group Lotus for us to perform creditably from the word 'go' – to protect their brand image – and we're very aware of that. We want to start as the best of the new teams, and by the end of the year we want to be competing in the midfield and challenging some of the established teams. That's a very tall order, but the job is to set your sights high and then try to achieve them – and that's what we aim to do.”
In terms of drivers, Fernandes has hinted that there are as many as six potential candidates on the present shortlist [see separate story – click here
], with the name of current Toyota star Jarno Trulli – out-of-contract at the end of 2009 – featuring most prominently according to paddock speculation. The Italian has worked with Gascoyne before at Jordan, Renault and Toyota, and has established a strong rapport with the man affectionately referred to inside the paddock as 'the bulldog' – but the Englishman's suggestion that Lotus is keen to take on two experienced hands would look to rule out of the equation World Series by Renault hopeful Fairuz Fauzy, who is eager to emulate countryman Yoong in making it all the way to the very top of the motorsport ladder.
“There's no pressure to take a Malaysian driver per se
,” Gascoyne underlined, “but when one is good enough they would like him to be in F1. Part of the reason [behind the project] for Tony is to inspire Malaysians to get into F1, and that includes drivers. We're talking to drivers; we're not in a position where we're looking at pay drivers – we want drivers with experience that can lead the team and provide the right level of feedback.
“We certainly want both drivers to have current F1 experience of at least a couple of seasons – and probably one even more experienced than that. We don't want to discuss specifics of any individual driver at the moment; as I say, we're talking to a range of drivers and we want to make our decision fairly soon – we won't leave it until the last minute. We want to be in control of our own destiny.”
TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE