Exclusive Eric Boullier Q&A: Lotus are on the up 15 May 2012
Lotus have been one of the surprise packages of 2012 to date. With Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at the wheel of the quick E20, the Enstone-based team have scored an impressive 84 points from five races and currently lie third in the constructors standings. After the duos impressive podium result in Bahrain and Raikkonens third-place finish in Barcelona on Sunday, Lotus have clearly found their stride. Team principal Eric Boullier discusses his driver line-up and reveals his hopes for the rest of the season
Q: Eric, how are you at the moment? On the one hand the drivers, team and car are performing well, but on the other hand youve lost your title sponsor?
Eric Boullier: Thats wrong. We have not lost our title sponsor - not in the real sense of the word lost. We have decided to end the contract - or the agreement - we had with them at the middle of last year. We wanted to change our strategy, and actually we are, if I may say so, wealthier than we were before. We have bigger budgets this year and will keep the name Lotus under a license agreement. We have signed some big names as sponsors. If you look at my shirt, there are two new names on it. We have been able to sign deals with Unilever and Microsoft, which are two really big names. So when I said jokingly - or rather not really jokingly - that we are wealthier than before, then I really do mean it.
Q: Both of your guys made it on to the podium in Bahrain. What did that mean to the team?
EB: It was a fantastic reward for the team. We havent performed in that mode since 2006. The fact is we were expecting to deliver something after the first three races, but we had to come to terms with the little glitches we had. When that was done - voila - it finally worked.
Q: Are these glitches permanently in the past now?
EB: They are gone, yes! Believe me I would love to have both cars on the podium every weekend and we are on the way there. You have to consider that both our drivers have not been driving in Formula One for at least two years, so they also needed to get up to speed and get into handling the format of the weekend. Even if you do a lot of mileage in the car you still have to get your game together and not miss any opportunities in practice, qualifying or the race.
Q: You opted to take a gamble with your driver line-up, combining an almost rookie and a former champion. Have there been some headaches?
EB: Yes, there have been headaches. We had a very lengthy discussion internally, which involved the technical side of the team, as well as the commercial side and of course our shareholders to make the right decision. After that we decided to take a gamble. So yes, headaches were involved, as there were very few hints about how it would develop.
Q: Grosjean is obviously repaying the faith you placed in him. Why is he delivering now and why didnt he during his first attempt in the sport? Whats changed?
EB: Fortunately we have not changed the culture of the team, we have just changed the way we operate a bit. The culture is the same and the people are more or less the same, but we have just changed some processes. Romains personality is quite complex. He is very strong on the one hand but on the other hand he is also very sensitive. So you have to find a way to balance these two ends of his personality. The last time he raced in F1, he was very young and he was not in the right place at the right moment with the right support. That sticks with someone for a long time. But now he is in the right place at the right moment with the right support and look what he can deliver!
Q: Raikkonen will always be Raikkonen. How has it been to have him in the team?
EB: I think he is fitting in quite well. We at Enstone - and I say Enstone on purpose - have racing spirit. I would say we cannot be compared with any other team, although I am aware that every team has its own culture and personality. We try to keep politics outside and try to give our drivers what they need. We know that Kimi doesnt like PR, doesnt like media. So why should we bother him with it? Sure we need a balance between his demands and the requests from our sponsors. But he knows that we care very much about his schedule and try to minimize his obligations. Thats it. He is a racer so he races for winning and hardly cares about the rest! Kimi is like a wild animal and you have to let him run the way he wants to go. We dont have to tell him what he has to do because he is a professional and we want him to deliver on track first. That is his purpose. After that there are some obligations. Unfortunately for him his personality makes him very attractive to the fans, so he is famous. He and we have to come to terms with the fact that he has many fans, so to a certain degree he is playing the game. We restrict his obligations to the minimum and I see that he is fine with it.
Q: Is he the team leader you need to fill the void left by Robert Kubica?
EB: Historically, this team has always pushed for one driver - a definite leader. But that has definitely changed. Its a thing of the past. I want two fast drivers because that is the way you get ahead in the constructors championship. So both drivers have the same status. Obviously Kimi, with his experience, his character and personality, tends to have a certain degree of leadership. But in fact it is not leadership but probably more attention. On the other hand Romain is digging a little place for himself nicely and is getting a lot of respect every weekend from the team. You must not forget that Kimi has done something in the range of 160 Grands Prix and Romain has just finished his twelfth Grand Prix this weekend.
Q: So how do the two get along? Raikkonen is the iceman, whilst youve described Grosjean as a bit sensitive
EB: Well, they are very different and I dont believe they will ever go on holiday together. But they dont need to be friends. Thats only my opinion. What I expect them to do is to respect each other and never forget that they are working for the team. Both know that we will never favour anyone - depending on the individual strategy each of them is on. It is up to them to qualify well and have a good race result. We just give them the tools to deliver on equal terms.
Q: Did you collect significant data at the in-season test?
EB: Definitely yes. In our position this test was perfect. We missed one third of testing in February due to some issues so these three days made up for that. So this year it was the right thing for us, but next year - with full winter testing - the situation might look different. I would say that we exploited this test to the full but I would not generally say that we need such a test in the future.
Q: What did you take to Barcelona from the test?
EB: A lot of things. You saw it in qualifying and in the race and my guess is that we will also be able to put on a good show in Monaco.
Q: You were hoping to shine in Barcelona. Was Raikkonen getting on the podium enough for you? Or did you want more?
EB: My gut feeling was that we would maybe see one of our black overalls on the podium. And I was right. Two black overalls on the podium was more an aspiration. We also have to stay realistic - this is a highly-competitive environment and there are no podium places going for free!
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