As a man with two decades' experience in the top flight under his belt at teams as diverse as McLaren, Sauber, Tyrrell, Jordan, Renault, Toyota, Spyker and Force India, Mike Gascoyne is used to facing challenges of differing levels and requirements – but that facing him at Lotus F1 in 2010, he admits, is entirely 'unique'.
Having initially proven unsuccessful in its bid to grab one of the three additional slots on the F1 2010 starting grid when the original list was published by the FIA back in June, the team that started out as British F3 contender Litespeed and morphed into Lotus was handed a second bite of the cherry when BMW's withdrawal announcement released another available berth. With vital Malaysian backing and support from Proton having been found in the meantime courtesy of interim team principal Tony Fernandes, it made sure that second time around, the governing body would be unable to say no.
However, having been given the nod later than fellow 2010 newcomers USF1, Campos Meta and Manor, chief technical officer Gascoyne knows that Lotus more than likely has an uphill struggle ahead of it, needing both to design a competitive car from a completely clean sheet of paper and at the same time uphold the proud reputation and heritage of its iconic name, with Team Lotus having achieved no fewer than 13 world championship successes – six drivers' titles and seven constructors' crowns – during its 1960s and 1970s heyday. The local boy is positive that the Hingham-based outfit will prove to be up to the daunting task.
“I think it's great news for the sport, and for me personally as a Norfolk lad it's a great story,” the 46-year-old told Crash.net Radio
, palpably enthusiastic about the return of the legendary Lotus name to F1 for the first time in more than a decade-and-a-half. “I grew up and went to school five miles down the road from the factory here.
“I think it's good for F1; the name does have a great heritage and great engineering tradition, and F1 is hopefully changing from the last ten or 15 years when you had these huge teams and it's just been about who can spend the most money. I think F1 has realised that it needs to change direction, reduce budgets and become more of an engineering challenge – and that was always the heritage of Lotus and Colin Chapman.
“I wouldn't say there are added pressures [from the name], because in any team in F1 there's pressure – you've got to succeed – but there's no doubt that we will be compared as a team to the team that's won the world championship seven times and so forth. I think we have to be aware of that, and for Group Lotus their brand is very important to them, so we have to make sure that we perform in a way that adds to their brand image.”
Having been absent from the paddock in a professional capacity since his departure from Force India last November, Gascoyne admitted that he is hungry indeed to give free rein once more to his widely-recognised engineering and strategic brilliance. Having already boldly asserted that he will not be happy unless Lotus F1 is the best of the new teams in its debut season at the highest level, the hard work is well underway, he reveals – and, despite the unavoidably late start, firmly on-schedule too.
“It's been frustrating for me being out of the sport that I love,” the Englishman reflected, “so this opportunity to get back in is fantastic – but also the opportunity to do that as a complete new start-up team is unique and something I've never done before. It's a new and fresh challenge for me, and that's great.
“It is a blank sheet of paper – we're starting from scratch and we've got to set everything up. It can be a daunting challenge, but it's also a very interesting one because it means you can do different things; you're not saddled with existing structures or things already in-place.
“Tony Fernandes has financed the design team over the last few months. We haven't progressed as much as we would have liked to, but we're still at the point where we're starting to put out the first parts, we're starting to put out chassis patterns and those sorts of things. It's very tight, but we're on-target. We've got a roll-out date of the second week in February, and we're very confident that we're going to hit that.”
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