Team Lotus needs to learn from 'missed opportunity'
21 June 2011
Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes has said that, despite being encouraged by its performance over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, the Hingham squad needs to take on board various lessons that it learned on race day in Montreal.
Although its hoped-for upgrade in the power steering department never even made it onto the T128, Lotus was just half a second off making it through to the second phase of qualifying - and comfortably ahead of the Virgin and HRT teams as has become the norm this season - but things didn't go to plan in the rain-affected race that followed. Jarno Trulli, who out-qualified team-mate Heikki Kovalainen for the first time in 2011, translated 19th on the grid into 16th at the chequered flag, but struggled with glazing brake discs and ended the race with parts of the car hanging into the footwell, while the Finn failed to see the finish of the protracted event after suffering a driveshaft failure behind the safety car.
“The Canada weekend was definitely one of highs and lows," Fernandes admitted after his team saw the 'newcomers' class go the way of Tonio Liuzzi's HRT and both Virgins also finish ahead of Trulli, "Our performance in qualifying was especially pleasing, and the aim is to build on that again in Valencia and throughout the season, but the race was obviously a missed opportunity.
"It is important that we learn from that experience, cut out the same mistakes and make sure we are in the right place to take advantage of such extraordinary circumstances in the future. It is all part of the learning curve and you have to have the lows to truly appreciate the highs."
The frustration of Canada could not dampen the team's big news that followed, with the addition of General Electric as a valuable technology partner from Silverstone onwards. Buoyed by his deal with the American giant, Fernandes is now looking forward to F1's return to Europe, and the similar task of tackling Valencia's unique portside circuit.
"We are still very much in our infancy, so to attract a brand of the calibre of GE at this early stage in our development sends out a very strong message to our fans, existing and future partners and the other teams in the pit-lane that we are going to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come," the Malaysian insisted.
“Now our attention turns to Valencia. This is our sixth trip to Spain this year and a venue I particularly enjoyed in 2010. On track the goals are clear – repeat the qualifying performance from Canada and keep up our much improved reliability record to bring both cars home on Sunday. It would also be good if the other drivers on the grid could avoid using either of our cars as launch ramps this year…”
Fernandes' tongue-in-cheek reference to Mark Webber's acrobatic collision with Kovalainen in last year's race highlights the tricky nature of the Valencia track, and technical chief Mike Gascoyne is hoping that the team can get on top of its task early on.
“We learnt a number of important lessons in Canada and that weekend is now behind us," he noted, "It is straight on to Valencia, back to Spain and the European Grand Prix. In terms of downforce levels, Valencia is unlike most of the other tracks in the calendar – we run more wing than in Canada for example, but less than a number of the other tracks like Barcelona or Turkey - and the prime tyre here is the medium, which we are racing for the first time this season.
"We ran it in on Friday in Canada and it behaved pretty well but, as degradation can be reasonably high on Fridays in Valencia due to the amount of dust and sand on track, we will be looking closely at how it performs and how we can take advantage of the time difference between the primes and the options on Saturday and Sunday.”
Kovalainen acknowledges that the importance of Friday's two free practice sessions is heightened at a temporary facility like Valencia but, along with Trulli, is confident of producing a decent result for his team despite sandwiching his best finish of the season between two DNFs in the last three races.
"I'm looking forward to the European GP as I think the heat and the demands of the circuit should suit our car well," the Finn explained, "It's not exactly a street circuit, it's a semi-street circuit with a very smooth track surface with almost no bumps and low kerbs. It has long straights and a number of tight corners that means finding the right downforce level is critical to maximising performance.
"Pirelli is bringing the softs and the mediums, which we haven't raced yet this season, so I think we will have some work to do on Friday to look at how to get the most out of them. We've been easy on the tyres all season so, hopefully, that will be the case again in Valencia, giving us strategic options that we've used well all season – Q2 is still the goal for qualifying and then let's see what happens on Sunday.”
“It's a track where you need to find a rhythm," Trulli adds, "Sections of it flow, but then you have other areas that are very much stop and go – long straights with hard braking at the end into tight corners. First gear is used a lot more here than most tracks, and often at the end of a flat out straight, so the brake wear is high. In contrast to Canada, the track surface in Valencia has strong evolution over the weekend - it starts out dusty on Friday but, by Sunday, there is a lot of grip and the lap times come down all weekend.
"Despite the finishing position in Canada, I was really pleased with my performance across the whole weekend. It was a tough race for sure and I finished the race with the inerter dangling around between my legs. The guys on the pitwall were urging me to bring it home and, while it would have been easier to park it, it's times like that when you have to do whatever you can to help the team. Having a large lump of metal hanging about was definitely holding me back and I wasn't able to push as hard as I'd have liked, but it was still pretty satisfying to catch the guys ahead and finish just behind them as we crossed the line."