Exclusive Q&A with Lotuss Eric Boullier 21 Jul 2012
When this season started team principal Eric Boullier dreamed that Lotus would finish third in the constructors standings. Boulliers dream has - for now, at least - become a reality but with 11 races still to go, anything could still happen. And the Frenchman knows his team must improve their cars qualifying form if they are to take advantage of its excellent race pace and claim victory this year. He discusses this, drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean and much more
Q: Eric, at the moment the team is third in the constructors standings. Will you manage to stay there until the end of the season?
Eric Boullier: If we can keep bringing the developments and updates we have been planning and make them work on track then I think we should be able to defend our current position. I am not sure about P3 or P4, as everything is very close, but I am pretty convinced that we will be in the fight for one of the prime places in the constructors championship.
Q: What are the key factors to staying in P3?
EB: Improving our qualifying rate, consistently delivering big points in the race with both cars and obviously keeping the development rate that we have at the moment.
Q: In terms of the teams size and financial power, Lotus are punching above their weight. How are you doing that?
EB: Well, you need a minimum level of resources in terms of finances, human skills and technical investment. We have everything that we need as a team, as we have a group of people who are very focused on racing. The fact is that the bigger your headcount, the bigger the chance you will get drawn into politics which results in a waste of energy. I think we are the right size and that is why we have stepped into this big fight for the constructors trophy.
Q: Is it not because two other teams are behind on their homework?
EB: That is exactly what I meant. There is a risk when the organisation you run becomes too big. If you look at the situation right now, the biggest winner every weekend is the most consistent car. If you take our car over a race weekend it is always right there in free practice - not so much in qualifying - but definitely one of the frontrunners pace-wise in the race. That means that we have delivered a good car and a good package with our drivers. Now we have to make sure that we dont miss any opportunity in scoring points.
Q: So why are you weak in qualifying?
EB: It is our philosophy this year. We understood from last year that one of the major issues in a race is tyre degradation, so we concentrated on a car that is conservative on the tyres so we could have a bigger flexibility in terms of strategy in the race. And it works! The downside of this strategy is that we are struggling - or were struggling a bit - to make our car perform over one lap. This weekend we have tried to change that approach a bit but obviously it takes time. Our main focus is still to protect our race pace because that is where you win points. But it is also clear that if we want to have more podium finishes we need to qualify better.
Q: What will be your homework for the next races? Where can you improve?
EB: We have a big upgrade we would like to see working on the car after the shutdown. So you could call this race some kind of test. The most visible change has been the new wing on Kimis car but there are also a number of changes on Romains car. And we want to see what these changes will bring us in terms of race pace. From Spa until the end of the season we hope that we will have the whole package up and running and it will help us defend our position.
Q: You just mentioned the new wing on Raikkonens car. Why did you pick the Finn to test the new package?
EB: Both cars and both drivers are treated exactly the same. Romain had a new front and rear wing in Valencia and Silverstone and now it was Kimis turn for something new. We decide that randomly.
Q: Everybody expects Lotus to win sooner rather than later. Which of your two guys do you see as the most likely to clinch victory?
EB: I dont know. On paper Kimi is delivering more in terms of points and race finishes so he could be the first one to win. But I am pretty sure that in the end both are capable.
Q: You just said that you had favoured race pace over qualifying pace. Grosjean has been faster than Raikkonen several times in qualifying but Raikkonen has scored more points. Why is that?
EB: Sometimes it is just by accident and sometimes it is because Romains driving style is a little bit more aggressive than that of Kimi and that is only because we struggle to get his tyres up to temperature. Once we can combine Kimis qualifying and Romains race pace we should be in good shape.
Q: Its mid-season and you know the strengths and weaknesses of Raikkonen and Grosjean now. Can you talk us through them?
EB: I dont see much of a downside to Kimi to be honest. He came back to his speed level very quickly. I think he struggled a little bit with the strength and pushiness of the others and also with getting back into the Formula One format over weekends. But that is all history. Now he is there - and I would not be surprised if he won tomorrow. Romain is still building himself up. Many see him as a fake rookie but I would disagree with that. Even if he did seven races two years ago he never had a real chance to bloom, so for me he is still in his first year. He is making mistakes - of course - because he is a youngster. But the good news is that he never repeats a mistake! He is learning, listening and getting stronger with every race.
Q: That sounds like there are almost no weaknesses and a lot of strengths
EB: Yes. I think I have one of the best driver line-ups on the grid. They are fast and complement each other. Character-wise they are very different. It is not about liking or hating each other but respecting each other - and they do.
Q: You say that you have one of the best driver pairings on the grid. Who would you say has an equally good line-up?
EB: It looks like the Red Bull pair. But on the other hand you have to consider that there has been a huge shake-up at our team over the last two years and that has not happened at any of the other big teams. Now that the dust has settled and we are all moving in the same direction we now need some stability. If you take Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes they have had the same driver line-up for three years and this is what we are missing this year. We are missing stability. But first you have to build it.
Q: What are your thoughts on the possibility a French race could feature the calendar again?
EB: The discussions have already gone very far but then there has been a drastic political change in France and now it is up to the new government to put in place a new group of people to bring the idea of a French Grand Prix forward and make it happen. I think with a strong commitment from Renault, the support of Total and some other French companies we should be able to satisfy the fact that we have three French drivers on the grid with one of them a serious podium contender. As a Frenchman, I dont care whether it would be at Magny Cours or Paul Ricard - or anywhere else in France - but I think that the French people should be clever and work together to make it happen.
Q: Coming back to this weekend, you said you could imagine Raikkonen winning the race, even from P10. What has to happen for him to win?
EB: First of all, there is no such thing as the perfect race weekend so you have to make the best of what you have. We are still learning to get the most out of our drivers but it is coming and Kimi is finding his way. Our car is fast enough in the race - so lets see how it goes.
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