6 April 2015
F1 Chinese Grand Prix: Palmer ‘crucial’ to Lotus, insists Gastaldi
With two races in the books, Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi says it's time to get GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer behind the wheel of an F1 car on a grand prix weekend.
Jolyon Palmer will continue to play a key role in the development of the latest Lotus F1 contender, despite the team's recent signing of two other young drivers.
While neither Carmen Jorda nor Adderly Fong can be considered in the same talent bracket as reigning GP2 Series champion Palmer, their presence in the Lotus camp has the potential to dilute the Briton's role, which he naturally hopes will lead to a full-time race seat in future. Gastaldi, meanwhile, has moved to reassure his asset that, on the eve of his FP1 debut in China this weekend, he remains an important cog in the Lotus machine.
“Jolyon is a crucial part of the team for this season, so it was important for us to see him in the car over the course of a grand prix early in the season,” the Italian explained, “For the first two races, it made sense for our race drivers to get as much time as possible in the car, but now we can start exercising some of Jolyon's talents in the FP1 session and we'll see him out in action quite a few times over the course of the year.”
Technical director Nick Chester has already confirmed that Palmer's programme won't differ too much from regular FP1 protocols, meaning that he will play a part in determining the team's destiny across the weekend.
“It will be good to have Jolyon out in action in FP1, and his to-do list will be the same as the race drivers', so aero evaluation work, some set-up runs and then longer runs towards the end of the session,” Chester revealed, “It will help with our weekend preparations as we always look at FP1 as being the development session.”
F1's annual trip to Shanghai highlights Fong's addition to the squad, although he and Jorda are likely to do little more than brighten up the pit garage for much of 2015.
“Adderly joins us as a development driver and has a structured programme with the team over the course of the season,” Gastaldi revealed, “His programme is slightly different to that [which] we're running with Carmen, to reflect that Adderly will also be racing over the course of the year in the GP3 Series and GT Asia. We'll see Adderly at some grands prix and in Enstone, where he will undertake simulator work to help him progress his racing as well as us develop the E23.”
The deputy team principal also makes no secret of the importance of China, not only to Lotus, but to F1 as a whole, making it tactically more sound to have one of the country's sons, albeit one born in Hong Kong, on the books.
“The Chinese Grand Prix is an exciting event in a country which holds tremendous potential now and for the future,” he said, “Looking at the automotive manufacture, China leads the way in terms of volume by a considerable degree, so it's reasonable to expect that interest will continue to grow in the world's premier racing series.
“Certainly as a team we are receiving increased interest from China. Adderly has Chinese heritage and we are also involved with a number of other initiatives with Chinese companies. China is obviously a huge market to explore commercially so it's very important for the business side of F1 to be there. We've seen a growing fan base in China over the years and we have a lot of younger fans there which illustrates a great future for the sport.”
While business will take up a fair amount of his time in Shanghai, however, Gastaldi will also be hoping that the team finally gets some reward for its early-season potential.
“At the top of the list is, of course, points,” he admitted, “We have the pace, so we just need to be there in the correct position when the chequered flag falls. Both Pastor [Maldonado] and Romain [Grosjean] are operating at the top of their game, so it's just a question of having a race without any issues or contact from other cars. We've had a couple of reliability issues which we're addressing, but we expect to be out there and scoring very soon.”
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