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Gerard Lopez Q&A: Lotus are coming back

11 May 2014

It’s been a tough few months for Lotus, losing star driver Kimi Raikkonen and team principal Eric Boullier, and then finding themselves massively on the back foot in winter testing, their race-winning form of 2013 notable by its absence. The breakthrough finally came in Spain on Sunday however, as Romain Grosjean ended an encouraging weekend by scoring the team’s first points of 2014. We spoke exclusively to chairman and team principal Eric Lopez…

Q: Gerard, why the dramatic drop in form in 2014? From frontrunners to near backmarkers within months…

Gerard Lopez: We are coming back up! Isn’t that obvious? We qualified fifth here and finished eighth in the race. Everybody knows that we had a lot of issues with the engine. We’ve run only a third of the laps of the other teams in terms of testing so have not been able to set up the car. In China it was the first time we got a full Friday - and as a result of this increased running Romain qualified fifth here - and Pastor (Maldonado) would have been around the same position without the issues that he had.

Q: Are you saying that from Barcelona onwards it should be back to ‘business as usual’ at Lotus?

GL: Yes, into the top ten in the race for sure…

Q: …and up to P4 in the constructors’ standings?

GL: Yes, that is the objective.

Q: What has the departure of Eric Boullier and Kimi Raikkonen meant for Lotus?

GL: In the case of Kimi it was obvious that he would go. It is always sad if you lose a good driver, but I think he also realized that he had a pretty good place here so my guess is that we both miss each other. As far as Eric goes, it was a change in management. It was not that we wanted Eric out as I rate him very highly. It was more that he wanted to make some changes in terms of how to manage specifically the financial and political sides of the business, so when he had the opportunity to switch team and go to have a taste of how it is somewhere else that’s basically what happened. As a result of that we reshuffled.

Q: Looking at Kimi’s situation at Ferrari, do you think he might regret his move over the course of the season?

GL: I don’t live with regrets - I don’t believe in that concept. For sure he had a good place with us.

Q: You are now the team principal - kind of. Who else has got a say now in the team?

GL: Our CEO Mathew Carter does the day-to-day business and Nick Chester runs the technical department - and I do run the team as the chairman. My role as a team principal is a bit different. I mostly interact with FOM and the FIA - I go to the meetings about sporting regulations and things in that mould. But don’t forget this is also a business and part of the business is actually dictated by reality - and I wanted to get more involved in that.

Q: Was the start of the season a shock for you?

GL: No. We knew that the first run was good, but that was a filming day. We already knew before the first test that it was going to be tough and after we broke several engines in testing we understood that it would be a rough ride into the season. Once we understood that this would happen we just decided two things: to accept and use the races as testing. Of course that is a very expensive way to do things!

Q: Would you say that your chassis right now is better than the power unit?

GL: We knew that the chassis is very good - and also that the power unit has the potential to be good. And Renault will be solving their issues - and once these issues are solved we should be in a good position because as I just said, the chassis is good.

Q: Are you surprised that it’s been such a struggle with the power unit?

GL: Yes, and I think Renault were surprised, too.

Q: What about your two drivers? Romain was promoted to nominal number-one driver with Kimi’s departure and Pastor has still to find his feet…

GL: We don’t have a number-one driver. We never had one, even when Kimi was with us. Whoever is in front is in front! Romain has matured a lot. He now feels comfortable in his shoes and that helps on the track and we know that he can do the job. Pastor we’ve known for a long time from GP2, as he’s been running with DAMS who are a team very close to us. He is unbelievably fast - every lap for him is something of a qualifying lap. Maybe he’s doing a bit too much and we need to sit down with him and work that out - tell him that in his case - with the speed that he has - most of the time 95 per cent would be enough. But he’s a nice guy and very accepted by the team.

Q: How disappointed was Romain with the drop in form?

GL: Of course he was disappointed. But we also wasted four races not scoring. That is not funny. But this is a sport where you cannot predict anything - because if you could it wouldn’t be half the fun. Sometimes you are on the bad side…

Q: In terms of attracting sponsors, would it have made more sense for Lotus to sign a big-name driver? Romain and Pastor are great, but possibly harder to sell than say a Raikkonen…

GL: I think people are starting to relate to young drivers much more than in the past. I think the future is with our guys. It’s just a question of time. We like our drivers.

Q: Is there now light at the end of the tunnel? Your first four points of 2014 here - is that just the start?

GL: Ha, it’s sunny here in Barcelona, so there is light! (laughs) So let’s see that the upward trend continues. I am cautiously optimistic, as financial analysts would say.