Q: So far it’s been a bit of a tough start for Lotus. Can you share your state of mind with us?
Romain Grosjean: Well, I think my mind is in a pretty good place. Of course so far it is not the start to the season that we wanted or hoped for. Now the new challenge is to stay positive and work hard - and move forward as much as we can.
Q: But do you need that kind of new challenge?
RG: Ha, life is a challenge. Sure, if you look at the fantastic end of 2013 I was coming into 2014 thinking ‘now I am ready to be world champion - I will work hard and go for it’. And then you realise that it is not so; sure that’s more than a bit irritating. But in reality it is only my third season in Formula One so hopefully I have plenty of time. You need to be in the right place at the right time.
Q: Lotus was a powerhouse in 2013. Is your current situation all down to the changes regarding the power unit? If so, where are the glitches?
RG: I think it is a little bit of everything. We pushed very hard in 2013 to get a good car and it is no secret that we struggled a bit at the end of the year with different issues that had to be addressed. That didn’t let us start the new season as well as we wanted. In winter testing we couldn’t do much mileage so we couldn’t learn about the car. That was a huge burden. Finally in Malaysia we had a trouble free Saturday and Sunday where we could learn. And with the new pieces that we had on the car today things are much more promising. Lately the numbers from the wind tunnel don’t look bad at all. Now we have to bring it on the track, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t.
Q: After such poor mileage in winter testing, you now appear to be in a position where you have to test under race conditions…
RG: …you have to change your state of mind. Right now I am not competing for performance but to get my car where I want it to be. Once that is achieved I will go and find performance. Of course we will not be looking at the last hundredths or tenths in qualifying. Right now we have to focus on the right things: learn and move forward. That’s the goal. And to understand that we have to take it as it is.
Q: There have been some significant changes at Lotus - first and foremost the departure of Eric Boullier as team principal (he subsequently joined McLaren). What does it all mean?
RG: For me, the loss of a friend in the team - but he’s still a friend of mine in the paddock. For him? He changed colours. Of course it was a shock and surprise for all of us, but it was a fantastic opportunity for him that he had to take. Now we have to move on.
Q: He was your strongest advocate…
RG: Yes, he was. He always believed in me - and sometimes kicked my ass. We had - and still have - a strong relationship. He was my guardian angel when I was in difficult conditions. And he gave me the mental equipment that I can now fly with my own wings.
Q: With Kimi Raikkonen gone, people looked to you as being the next lead driver at Lotus as you know the ins and outs of the team. You must have envisaged it happening in better circumstances…
RG: Well, sometimes things don’t go your way. You have to accept that. Look at Fernando (Alonso): he was world champion, then he switched team, then he came back to Renault to be their number one driver but the car was not perfect so he couldn’t achieve what he wanted…
Q: But you must have expected more being the de facto number one driver at Lotus…
RG: Of course with that status you want to win races. And of course for that reason I wanted us to start the season on a high - but that is not the case. It is pointless feeling sorry for yourself. And there is a clear upward trend: we were 21st on the grid in Australia and then 16th in Malaysia - so let’s take it one race at a time. I have every reason to stay positive for the longest: I have the easiest job in the team as I come late in the morning and leave early in the evening, whereas the guys in the team they hardly sleep - they work until they drop. So it would not be fair to give up. And if I am the lead driver then I want to lead everybody in the same direction and bring everything with me.
Q: That sounds like a pretty big task…
RG: …and it is. When things go right, things are pretty easy. If you have a car capable of winning everything it’s much more laid back. But it shows what you’re made off when the times are tough. And it means that first and foremost you must work twice as hard.
Q: What are the qualities that you have to show in the hard times? They must be different compared to when everything is going smoothly…
RG: The way you work, the way you prioritise things is different. ‘We’ is now the most important thing - and it is my duty to get everybody with me.
Q: What do you miss about Kimi being gone?
RG: Kimi was a good team mate and his experience was priceless. To develop the car is was good to have him on board. But he’s gone - that is it.
Q: You’re not missing anything?
NR: Only that there is no beer in the fridge anymore… ah - I am kidding!
Q: And how are things with your new team mate Pastor Maldonado? You are closer in age - what else do you have in common?
RG: I don’t think it is a question of age. And Kimi didn’t have a lot of relationships anyway - with anyone. Pastor is different and we go very well together. I like working with him. He’s already won a race…
Q: Is that something that you envy of him?
RG: Well, of course - I want to join him quickly!
Q: Do you think you’ll have a breakthrough this weekend? You mentioned that you improved from Australia to Malaysia, so what about here in Bahrain?
RG: I have twice qualified 11th here - so that would fit into the curve right now - even if it was pretty disappointing when I did it in the past. I definitely hope that tomorrow will be an easier day for us because three seconds off the pace is not the Lotus tradition. But whatever is the case, I am ready to fight it through and make the car a better place to be. Maybe not this weekend, but we are getting there - there is no doubt in my mind.