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Tony Fernandes Q&A: I’d give Lotus an A grade 17 Sep 2010

Tony Fernandes (MAL) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 2 April 2010 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Lotus T127.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, Friday, 10 September 2010 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Lotus walks the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 26 August 2010 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Lotus T127.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 1 August 2010 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Lotus.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, Friday, 10 September 2010

They may still be stuck on zero points, but the 2010 season has progressed so well for debutants Lotus that they look increasingly likely to finish the year as the best of the three new teams and clinch the all-important tenth spot in the constructors’ championship. For a team that only came into being a year ago, it’s an excellent achievement, and with some key announcements about their future due in Singapore next weekend, team principal Tony Fernandes is understandably feeling proud. He speaks exclusively to Formula1.com...

Q: Tony, we’re at the end of the European season and we are now set to head back to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix. How would you rate the team’s performance so far this year?
Tony Fernandes:
At this stage I'd give us an A grade and I'd say it's been a fantastic season for the team in its first year. There have obviously been highs and lows, but just being on the grid in Bahrain was an incredible achievement, and now 14 races in, it still feels like the dream is coming true.

Q: Does Formula One racing always prove to be more expensive than people believe it will be?
TF:
I don't think that's true, if you have the right people making the right decisions. The credit in our team has to go to Mike (chief technical officer, Gascoyne) and the boys. They said they'd have to spend a certain amount to get us to where we are now, and that's exactly what they've done. We've been on budget to the penny. I think Formula One needs to re-examine itself and the costs need to be kept in check. Many of the technical changes that were brought in to reduce costs haven't done so, and in many cases they have actually increased costs. This won't encourage more new teams to come into our sport, so it's incumbent on all the teams to make sure they stay on budget, and that the whole sport works to keep the costs down over the long term.

Q: The team's performance, relative to its closest rivals, doesn't seem to have dropped, despite a public announcement you are already focusing on the 2011 car. That must make you very proud of the work being done back at the factory, as well as on track?
TF:
I'm extremely proud of the job every single member of the team has been doing since day one. The other teams continue to develop their cars and yet we seem to stay just ahead of them on track, which is obviously great for the team's morale. The decision to stop development of this year's car was a hard one, but the right one. Lotus Racing is not about just one year - it's about the long term, so the decision to start work on next year's car as early we did shows that we are making the right long-term strategic decisions. It's funny - I'm obviously looking forward to the remaining races this season, and the battle with our nearest rivals is great for the fans and for all the teams involved, but for all of us next year is going to be very exciting.

Q: You’ll no longer be a ‘new team’ next year and your objectives will obviously change, with points and on-track performance even more important. How do you personally plan to maintain your enthusiasm for the challenges ahead in year two?
TF:
The truth is my enthusiasm levels are rising all the time, and you have to remember I've done this before. Air Asia is a classic case - there was an initial honeymoon period when we took over, and you relish the change that takes place when you go from underdog to challenger. Now everyone sees us as a real threat, and they want to try and take us on, and I hope we have the same thing here. At the moment everyone is nice to us, everyone respects us, but I'm sure that will change as we move up the grid.

Q: The decision to switch from Cosworth power was not too much of a surprise as there had been rumours for a while. But what about your driver line-up for next year? Can you shed any light on that?
TF:
This year we had to take a very brave decision, to sign two drivers we pay, and I think that put down a marker about how serious we are in F1. They've both been superb this year - Jarno (Trulli) was immense in Italy, and Heikki (Kovalainen) has been a really positive source of energy in the team. It's great for everyone to have such an enthusiastic source of energy around all the time, and that can lift everyone. So let’s wait and see. On the engine side, we've been extremely pleased with Cosworth all season. Williams have proved what a good engine it is, but our problem has been with hydraulics, and with the gearbox, as we saw in Monza on Jarno's car. So for a smaller team, we can't develop that overnight, and that led to the decision to switch. We'll always be very good friends with Cosworth, and are immensely grateful for their input and help in our first season, and that will never change.

Q: You're a busy man, to say the least - there’s AirAsia, Tune Group, Lotus Racing and everything else you're involved with. How long do you see yourself staying on as team principal?
TF:
Maybe I've always meant to remain as team principal! I've had a fantastic level of support at FOTA, and when I haven't been at the meetings I've had messages saying ‘you've got to come!’ Initially, I wanted the AirAsia shareholders to feel confident that I was devoting enough time to the business, but after another record year I think they've realised I can do both. I have a fantastic CEO in Riad (Asmat), and an amazing CTO in Mike, and with video conferencing, blackberries, email and every other form of communication at our disposal, I think I'll be team principal for a few more years.

Q: Do you ever have time to sleep?
TF:
Ha! Do you know what, I normally struggle to sleep, but in Italy I was sleeping really well! I had to ask Harry Nuttall to wake me up every morning - I think that maybe the Italian air was helping me sleep! I think Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone have made going racing fun, and while it's hard work, it's fantastic and I love every minute of it.

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