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Exclusive Interview with Lotus’s Mike Gascoyne 18 Dec 2009

Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne and Lotus CEO Riad Asmat at the Aerolab wind tunnel in Sant'Agata Bolognese, Bologna, Italy. © Lotus F1 Team Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne at Lotus's composite designs, Cologne, Germnay, December 2009. © Lotus F1 Team (From left to right): Lotus test and reserve driver Fairuz Faury, Tun Siti Hasmah binti Haji Mohamad Ali, Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad, and Lotus drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 2009. © Lotus F1 Team Mike Gascoyne (GBR) Force India F1 Chief Technical Officer.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 21 March 2008 (L to R): Jody Egginton (GBR) Force India F1 Race Engineer, Mike Gascoyne (GBR) Force India F1 Chief Technical Officer and Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 19 October 2008

'We want to live up to Lotus's heritage and Malaysia's hopes'

If Mike Gascoyne’s Formula One career were turned into a novel it would be a real page turner. From his glory days at Jordan and Renault to the trials and tribulations of Toyota and Force India, Gascoyne’s time in the sport has been a thrilling ride. And after a year away, he’s back, as chief technical officer of the newly-launched, and Malaysian-backed, Lotus team. Simultaneously taking on the hopes of a nation and assuming the mantle of such an iconic F1 name is no easy task, but few are better qualified than the pit lane’s very own ‘Rottweiler’. Gascoyne outlines his hopes for 2010 and beyond…

Q: Mike, after more than a year away from Formula One racing you are once again in charge of designing a car, as you did with Toyota…
Mike Gascoyne:
I think after my last two jobs it became pretty clear that no one wanted to employ me, so I thought I'd better set up my own team... This is obviously a unique challenge, because it's setting up a whole team from scratch, not just the car, and it's a team that has the Lotus name. It's a daunting task, but the advantages are clear. We haven't got any baggage to deal with and we can set the team up to operate in a lean and efficient manner. On the Lotus side, as a Norfolk boy who grew up in the area and went to school around here, to bring back the Lotus name is a fantastic opportunity.

Q: Reviving the Lotus brand must be a very exciting task, as well as being a risky one when you think about Lotus’s glory days. Will the 2010 Lotus team be able to connect to those good old days? How long will it take?
MG:
You can't bring the Lotus name back into F1 without pressure - from Group Lotus and all the fans. And that's how it should be - we don't shy away from it. And on a personal level, as a guy who grew up just down the road and went to school a few miles from the Lotus factory, to be bringing the name back is something that has a very personal feel for me. As Formula One is changing and becoming less of a spending competition, hopefully now it's more about innovative engineering. And that's what (original Lotus founder) Colin Chapman's philosophy always was, so if we can bring some success that would be a fantastic result. How quickly can we become competitive? A small, efficient operation has to look at doing so in three to five years, and that's our aim.

Q: To have the best head start possible you have hired Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen to help you push the car’s development. You have known Jarno for many years - and with many teams. Was this one of the reasons you hired him?
MG:
Jarno was always one of our first choices. I've worked with him several times, and get on with him very well. He's also always been the quickest guy I've worked with over one lap and that will give us a clear view of the true pace of the car. Having experienced drivers in the car is essential. Starting so late, what we didn't want to do was take on new drivers, who we'd have to teach how to do their jobs in F1, and we've been fortunate to get two race winners on board.

Q: You’re involved with a team that also carries the hopes of a whole nation. The driver announcement, for example, was held in Kuala Lumpur’s Parliament building in the presence of the Prime Minister of Malaysia YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abd Razak. It is a huge responsibility, especially as Malaysia is such an enthusiastic supporter of Formula One racing. How do you deal with that burden?
MG:
It's a great problem to have. I've been in this business for 20 years and I and the whole team are relishing the burden. Even the PR department...

Q: You are known for your strong leadership style, which has earned you the nickname ‘the rottweiler’. But it has sometimes caused conflicts with management. Will the Lotus team be an environment where you can live out your visions?
MG:
I don't think I have a confrontational approach, but I am very straightforward and I say what I believe. At Toyota, the direction I wanted it to go technically wasn't where the management wanted, and that's fine, it's their choice, so we went our separate ways. You could say the consequences of their decisions weren't necessarily that great. One of the great things here is the number of people coming on board who want to work with me. At Jordan, Renault and even Toyota I built some very strong teams. And that was resented at Toyota because the management didn't see that as the way to go, and it's nice that a lot of those people are coming over to Norfolk now.

Q: Talking of your past, what did you make of Toyota’s exit? What went wrong?
MG:
Some might say the past is the best place for me, but I do have mixed feelings about them leaving. In one respect I'm very disappointed. When I went there in 2004 it was a fantastic opportunity to take the team forward, to win the world championship, and in 2005 I exceeded the goals that were set for me. They wanted to score a podium and reach 40 points - we scored five podiums and 88 points. The idea was to move on to score the first race win in 2006, and then the championship in 2007. But it was clear the senior management wanted the company to operate in a way I didn't feel would bring them the results. The bottom line was that they didn't get the results. So in some ways you could say ‘I told you so’, but in other ways I feel it is a terrible shame for the people out there. Really, my overriding feeling is of disappointment.

Q: Tony Fernandes said that he will act as team principal for a period and then back away. He has a lot of businesses to look after, and despite his past role as a sponsor of the Williams team, is a relative newcomer to the sport. Does that mean that you are the one that will show the ropes to the team?
MG:
I don't think I need to show Tony any ropes. As a professional businessman he's very capable of holding the ropes, and that was immediately obvious to me when I first met him.

Q: How developed is the car and will it be completed in time to make the Bahrain grid?
MG:
The simple fact is we will be ready for Bahrain, it's just a question of how ready. We've said we want to be the best of the new teams, and I'm confident we'll be able to give that a good go. But I think it's not just about Bahrain, it's about our development pace - three months from now, and where we are six months from now. I think we'll put on a good showing in Bahrain for a team that got such a late entry.