Q&A with Lotuss Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli 13 Feb 2010
Following its shakedown at Silverstone earlier this week in the hands of test driver Fairuz Fauzy, the Lotus T127 was officially unveiled in London on Friday evening. Race drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli give their thoughts on the new car and the season ahead
Q: Heikki, what do you think about the new car?
Heikki Kovalainen: I think it looks very cool. First of all I think the whole visual side looks really good, and from what I've been following myself at the factory and talking to the mechanics, the quality of the build and design has also been very good. So that all looks positive. The shakedown that we did early this week all went pretty well. We had just some small problems, nothing major, so fingers crossed that it's all going to be fine at Jerez. As for the performance, we don't really know yet - we will have to see.
Q: Has it lived up to your expectations so far?
HK: Its been better than what I had expected. We are a bit ahead of schedule in terms of the design and build of the car. How everything is shaping up at the factory as well has been better than I expected; it looks very good there as well. Actually, the operation side, when everybodys actually working at the factory, it looks normal to me, compared to what I have been used to before, because all the people that are in the team are current people. They are not people that have been away for two or three years. They are people from last year, people from some different teams who have just finished their notice period and come to our team. Its like a routine already for the boys, so that is also pretty convincing.
Q: What made you go to a new team this year instead of an established one like McLaren?
HK: Well obviously I had different options as well at the end of last year and some of those were with more established teams. But in the end I made this decision myself because I saw the most potential in this project. Talking to (team principal) Tony (Fernandes) and (chief technical officer) Mike (Gascoyne) convinced me. Only the future will tell whether it was a good or bad decision, but so far I have no regrets, and so far, it has been better than expected.
Q: What was the potential based on?
HK: Tony is obviously a very good businessman and he has a very impressive CV. For me the financial backing of the team looked convincing. The money will be there to get the team going. We can build a reasonable sized team. I think eventually when everybody is on we are going to have 260 people, which is around the size of Sauber. That's pretty good. And then we have the facility at Hingham that is not quite ready yet but eventually we will be able to design and produce parts there, which for me was a message that we could make decent progress during the year in terms of improving the performance of the car. Those two things were major points. And then obviously Mike being at the head of the technical team that was the third important point that I based my decision on. Like I said, so far, there are no regrets. This team has a lot of potential to become a very professional and successful team, even in the medium term.
Q: What is the medium term, in your view?
HK: Three years - I think we can achieve some decent results in this time.
Q: From your Formula Renault days on, its been clear you are naturally gifted. Can Lotus give you the opportunity to thrive in the way everyone thinks you are capable of?
HK: I certainly hope so. I think the best races in my Formula One career are still ahead of me. That's why I was determined not to go anywhere else but Formula One. I have had difficult races, but also I have had good races. I think here I will have an opportunity to produce better results and get more out of the team regularly. That is what I am working on.
Q: Last year you were up against Lewis Hamilton, how do you see the challenge from Jarno Trulli?
HK: I'm really looking forward to working with Jarno. He is obviously a very quick driver and I think we can push each other, and also we get on well on a personal level. So I think we can push the team forward and that is crucial from the beginning. Mike is demanding a lot from us. I have already spent already a few weeks at Hingham, just everyday talking to the engineers. I'm not worried about my team mate - I have never been worried about my team mate. We push each other.
Q: Jarno, what made you choose Lotus?
Jarno Trulli: I had several options, but there was something growing up and becoming interesting and that was Lotus. You know better than me, you are English, what Lotus is. I only realised afterwards, but I was thinking about it. Lotus is probably second only to Ferrari in motorsport. And there was this one man, this crazy person, who was Mike Gascoyne. He was getting ready to get this brand back on track. So honestly, I had worked with Mike. He is definitely a difficult person if you don't know how to handle him, he is someone who is very straightforward and who knows what to do in Formula One. So, technically, I was happy to have someone like him leading the team.
But obviously these days, you never know if there is enough money to do it, so eventually I met Tony (Fernandes) and I understood that there was really something serious going on. And I was right. At the beginning, when I first visited Lotus, I had to believe that something was going to happen because there were so few people there. There was nothing! After three months, wow, I have seen the car on track at Silverstone. A green and yellow car hitting the track after 16 years branded Lotus - I think that is something that stands out in my mind and everyone's mind when you see it on the track.
Obviously we know it is not going to be easy and we are running out of time. What we have done and the guys have achieved is something great. I have a lot of respect for the people who have been working on this project, but on the other hand for this year we have to be very realistic. We know that we are heading to Bahrain and have to deal with a lot of troubles and solve the problems, but the most important thing is that we stick together and be patient. For the first year we have to be reliable, decent and show good progress. We cannot believe that we will be on top straight away - that is unrealistic.
Q: Points in year one?
JT: Being here, and getting the car ready was a big achievement on the technical side. Now, the next step is to try to discover and solve the problems as quickly as possible on the track. On my side I have to give the right direction as quick and as well as possible because we have very little time, and the budget is not unlimited for a Formula One team these days. So, I would say that an experienced driver is very important. After that, we will be heading to Bahrain and we'll try to make it to the finish with both cars. I cannot say where we are going to be, because we have no idea exactly how good the car is. But first of all need to look decent and finish races. Afterwards, the next big challenge will be making a step forward in terms of aero updates, which will probably come in Barcelona, then, after five or six races, another aero update. By the end of the season if we are fighting with the middle of the grid it will be great. Always we are racing and dreaming of the first point. That first point will be emotional for everyone. It is only a point, but it will be extremely appreciated. So I think we have to take things step by step. I know I have to be patient. Its a long term project, as is my contract, so all I have to do is build up a team as well as I have done before, and make it stronger and stronger.
Q: You've been in Formula One a long time, and at teams with big budgets. How do you motivate yourself to start from scratch again?
JT: It is not a question of motivating yourself. You are motivated only if you love driving, and if you still think you can do something special. Especially if you are still quick; you still feel that you can do something special on the track and get the best out of the car, so this motivates me. Obviously I know I am going to face a very hard season, but there is always a challenge inside a challenge. And this is what a driver really has to look for. I know that I cannot think about winning a race for Lotus this year, but I can think that I can score the first point at the first race, and this will be a big achievement for me and the team. So there is still some good motivation.
Q: Did you ever consider leaving Formula One racing? You tested for NASCAR...
JT: I did consider leaving, and there were some options. But the NASCAR thing was just a way to try something different. I had been driving a racing car for years and years. I had never driven a GT or a closed cockpit car. But eventually the love for the open cockpit and the feeling that you have in the open cockpit was still inside me. It was too strong. So, I was hoping always to get a good chance in Formula One. Looking at where F1 is heading, this is a good chance.