Team insight - Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne on Lotus 13 Feb 2010
Although many said it would be a near impossible feat in their projected timeframe, team principal Tony Fernandes and chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne have successfully brought the Lotus name back to Formula One racing and launched their new team. Of course theres a lot of work still to do, and ultimately the proof of their success will be judged by how they perform come Marchs season opener in Bahrain. But few would argue against Fernandes and Gascoyne being allowed to revel in their achievement for one evening. At the unveiling of the teams new T127 car the duo answered questions from the assembled media about how their plans came together and their hopes for this season and beyond...
Q: Tony, weve heard two of the new teams may be struggling to make it to the Bahrain grid, the other new one has had a tough time at Jerez this week. How confident are you in what Lotus has produced? And what are your realistic targets?
Tony Fernandes: Well I'm looking at the car and I can't see whether really its a good or bad car. That's my not my expertise. That is in bringing in a group of people and giving them the right environment to work in. I think that is one of the things that Mike (Gascoyne) has said, and the team have said - they are enjoying being back in Formula One. I mean the power of giving someone the ability to perform. Sometimes when you work in a corporate environment and everything is bureaucratic, you don't the best out of people. But that's my ability, to bring a group of people together and to give them the right environment to do their best. And then get Mike the best drivers.
What are my expectations? Well I would just love to finish every race. If we can beat some of the new teams that would be a fantastic start. If we can beat some of the established teams towards the end of the season that would be great. As Heikki (Kovalainen) said this is not a one-year project. We are not here to come last every year. We are here to build a proper team, build the right foundations, not have any aspirations but build quietly and confidently. But mark my words we will compete as the very best over a period. And I think we've shown our seriousness by signing three very good drivers. So the expectation this year? Lets try and finish every race, let's learn a lot, with a learning curve that goes up, and be the best of the new teams, whoever they may be.
Q: Is the long term future for the factory to stay at Hingham in Norfolk?
TF: I think for the moment we are going to keep our base in Hingham. I think the idea of trying to do two bases just complicates, so for the foreseeable future let's give the team the best ability to perform. And so Hingham will be the home for a while, and we will see how we progress from there. We are already out-growing Hingham actually. Heikki is complaining that if he doesn't come by 08.30 in the morning he hasn't got a car park slot. Notice the democracy in the team! That wouldn't happen in other teams. Formula One drivers would probably have their own parking spot, so we are very democratic. We like the feel, there is a good vibe, its a good environment and I don't want to destroy that. So let's build it slowly and see where we go from there. I don't have any long-term plans. Right now it's Hingham, and giving the best ability for them to perform there in a stable environment and then we will see. Maybe Malaysia will be an eventual home if we can have better facilities and we can grow it and we have a Formula One track right next to us. But right now it makes a lot of sense to stay where we are. We dont have any plans to move.
Q: What are your thoughts on your thoughts on your driver line-up?
TF: I think the key thing is that we really are a team, not a group of individuals. And the success of Lotus will be as a team. Even with my limited knowledge, if you look at the way Heikki, Fairuz (Fauzy) and Jarno (Trulli) work together, I think that is a much better approach than having two drivers trying to out-do each other. I think they should use their energy to make the team a better team, and I'd like it to be positive energy. Of course they will be competitive, that's the way they are, they wouldn't be in F1 otherwise, but I think they will use their competitiveness in a positive way to build a better team.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about Proton's involvement?
TF: Well Proton obviously owns Group Lotus and the idea behind this is that we will have more synergies with Group Lotus. Who knows, one day we could be all reunited.
Q: Are Proton putting money into the project now?
TF: Yes they are. It's a technological collaboration, there is money behind it as well. The main drive will be to improve Lotus.
Q: This team grew out of the Litespeed Formula Three team that was considering building its own chassis. Will we see a Lotus F3 chassis in the future?
TF: I dont think so. We have two or three developmental teams and it shows again our seriousness about this that we had put money behind Fairuz in the Renault series and we will assist Litespeed as well. And both of those teams will be development teams for us, so it shows you that we are taking this as a long-term project. We have put a substantial budget behind this as it is very important to not only develop future drivers but to develop engineers and know-how. My experience at Air Asia, one of the first things I did when we made some money, was to build an academy and we trained our own pilots and our own engineers - we invested a lot of money. When I looked at (London football club) West Ham the thing I liked about them most was the academy. So we are putting a lot of effort into the development side of the team.
Q: Mike, you have worked with Jarno Trulli four times now. Did you want him in this team?
Mike Gascoyne: I think we get on well personally together, theres a lot of mutual respect. But I think the one thing, over my career, about Jarno is that over one lap he is the quickest guy I have ever worked with. I think that is invaluable for any team, but especially for a new team, where you are struggling to find your feet, to have a guy who is experienced and controlled. I've seen Jarno do it many, many times with cars that aren't very good - he can still get the best out of it. He doesn't panic. He works through his programme, and at times you wonder what he is doing, but then come three oclock on a Saturday, he has done a lap time that you know is as quick as it can do.
To be honest, he was always number one on the list. That was from my point of view and also from Tony's. The whole driver choice was interesting because we had three groups of drivers and I very much wanted to get two experienced drivers in, because as a new team you need that experience to provide a platform. And we had a sort of group of experienced drivers with current teams we thought might be available and approachable, and we hoped we might get one of them. Then we looked at some guys who had a couple of years of experience, then GP2 drivers and new drivers. Jarno was top of our list and the first discussion we had on it, Tony said why don't we take two experienced guys? Why don't we take Jarno and Heikki? I think that will be a good combination. I remember saying: Yeah, yeah, this is a new team. Forget it. They are not going to want to come. So the fact we have ended up with them shows the commitment of Tony to having the strength of character to go for drivers that quite frankly cost him money. But it is a statement of intent of where he wants to be. I could not have asked for more from the driver choice. Working with Jarno, the one thing he gives me is that on a Saturday I know the job I have got to do, because that car has gone as quick as it can go. If we are two seconds off pole position, my car needs to go two seconds quicker. Simple.
Q: Is this when it starts feeling real now?
MG: I don't think any of this feels real does it? People keep saying to me, do you feel proud? I think I just feel a bit shell-shocked at the moment. You always think you can do it, but you are always aware of the pit falls, and when you have done it, it is great. Given the time, I don't think we could have done a single thing better than we have done.
Q: Youve had the shakedown, do you have an inkling of how good the car is?
MG: We always said that we wanted to produce a good, solid, professional car. A 2010 car, not three or four years old, one that is current and not too far off the back of the established teams. I think weve got to wait and see, but I am confident we will achieve that. From when we got the entry on September 12, it is not possible in modern F1 to be in better shape than we are now.
Q: Its a green car with yellow trim...
MG: I think it was important that it was. I think it needed to be a green and yellow car, and it needed to have the chassis designation T127, which is the next Lotus type number. If it didn't have either of those, it wasn't a real Lotus.
Q: Virgin Racing have had a pretty horrendous time in Jerez testing this week. Have their struggles made you more cautious about what Lotus will face in the next few weeks?
MG: No. From my side we are very vigorous in the design process and proof-testing process. I have always said that we will be a professional Formula One team, even if we are a small one and even if we started late. And part of that is a rigorous design and testing process. Touch wood, you can never say never, but I think we have done everything very vigorously. And that is my job for these guys. When I allow a car the first time to go on the race track, they are entrusting me with their well-being. And when I sign it off to go out, it has to be right. So that is the job we have done.
Q: Did you have any say about the engine choice?
MG: When we were making that choice, the only thing we were aware of in the whole process of entry to Formula One was that we had to have an engine, and we had to have a contract in place. And when I looked at the design resource that I had, what was being offered by Cosworth and Xtrac as well, with a gearbox that fitted directly to the engine, with a hydraulic pack and everything that all mated together and tested together, from an engineering perspective there was only one choice to make. There was only one way of being on the grid on time and that was going down that route. So, it was a choice I made and a very simple engineering design choice to make.
Q: But you must have started designing the chassis before?
MG: No, from the moment I was asked in May by Litespeed to look at designing a car, we approached Cosworth and we had draft contracts in place. And, with those draft contracts in place, they supplied all the engine details. So from May we were designing a chassis to fit a Cosworth engine and Xtrac gearbox.
Q: Coming back to the Virgin car, it is no secret that it has been designed totally by Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). Is that a good design strategy?
MG: I think it is an integral part, but it is not a complete part.
Q: (Red Bull chief technical officer) Adrian Newey said he did not think it could be used without a wind tunnel?
MG: Well, I think he is one of the best aerodynamicists in Formula One. I used to be an aerodynamicist, and my PhD was in CFD, and I think I would kind of agree with him. You look at BMW when Albert II was announced as one of the world's biggest supercomputers dedicated just to their CFD. If you look at Enstone, they built their environmentally-friendly CFD centre, with a huge computing resource. I don't think these guys are idiots, and they also have wind tunnels. I know Bob Bell at Renault very well, he is a clever guy who gave me my first job in F1 and he is a trained aerodynamicist - and I think if he thinks you need a wind tunnel... I think CFD is a very exciting technology and it is advancing, but is it an absolute? I don't think there are many people who think it is.
Q: You worked for Toyota with unlimited resources, but you never won a race. What are your prospects this year?
MG: From my point of view, I actually had a record that was broken at Force India, but up until then every team I joined in a senior position from 1994, we had been on the podium within 20 races. The longest one it took was at Toyota - maybe that was a sign of how Toyota operated. That is probably a little bit of a challenge from where we sit today, but we like a challenge. So we will get on with it.
Q: So will your statistics count for the new Lotus or the old Lotus?
MG: That is one very important thing. Clive Chapman asked Tony Fernandes when he first spoke to him, when you win will it be the first win for Lotus Racing or Lotus' 80th win? And Tony was very clear - it would be Lotus's 80th win.