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Exclusive Gerard Lopez Q&A: Lotus emphasis now on 2015

09 Sep 2014

Last year Lotus scored a race victory, 13 further podiums and fourth place in the championship. Thirteen rounds into the 2014 season and they have just eight points on the board. That’s the bad news. The good news, according to team Chairman Gerard Lopez, is that they are confident of fixing things for 2015. They know what the E22’s problem is, their finances are sound, they expect to retain both drivers - and they have a new team principal on the way…

Q: Gerard, Lotus seem to be facing a drama every race weekend. When will the bad days end?

Gerard Lopez: As soon as we have better performance. We had a lot of issues at the beginning of the season with the drivetrain and then somehow midway through the season we’ve found out that we have some issues with the chassis, which are quite difficult to solve for this year. But it is good that we found out before we started to develop the next car, so for the rest of the season we try to save whatever can be saved - but yes, it will be a difficult season all the way to the end.

Q: Looking in from outside, one might assume Lotus has three problem areas: the engine, the drivers, and the finances. Which is the most pressing?

GL: Let’s start with the last one, the finances. We are actually publishing the annual accounts and this year we are pretty much breakeven - we eventually could make a profit. So I would say that we are one of the best teams financially speaking, so this part is the easiest to answer. Just wait till we publish our numbers in one or two weeks.

The drivers: we are not unhappy with them - we just gave them a car that is difficult to drive. As I just said, we’ve found out around midseason that we have a problem with the chassis - especially in slow corners - so the car is not good. That translates into confidence not being there and that makes the job difficult. We’ve seen Romain (Grosjean) last year at the level of Kimi (Raikkonen) and nobody was questioning him, and Pastor (Maldonado) is one of the few young drivers who has won a Grand Prix. So the drivers are good - we just don’t give them a good enough car to perform at their level. We are putting a lot of emphasis on next year - then let’s see.

Q: Let’s stay with Romain. Is he suffering from having lost his ‘father figure’ in former team principal Eric Boullier?

GL: The way it worked before was that Eric used to work for us - not just in the team, but also at Gravity - and Romain is very much the ‘son’ of Jean-Paul Driot, myself and Eric. Eric was managing him and it was pretty much us that decided to give him a second and a third chance: the second chance when he came (back to the team), the third chance after all the crashes - and he has paid us back. Obviously he has to grow in becoming a driver that takes a bit of a leadership - and in the end everything looks bad this year just because the car is not good. That leads to more questions to himself, more questions in terms of his performance. If he had podiums he would not ask questions - nobody would ask questions. In this sport you are only as good as your results - and this year a lot of questions come because of a lack of performance.

Q: But wasn’t Eric the ‘agony aunt’ for the drivers? Who is handling that now?

GL: Before it was Eric to some extent. And me a lot - with Kimi and Romain in recent years. I do get hands-on in this matter - and it will continue. Romain and me, we have a very close relationship - we see each other outside the track and the same goes for Pastor. I do spend time with Pastor’s family, so it is not just a professional relationship. Probably with Eric (and Grosjean) it was an easier language understanding. And, of course, for me it’s a bit of a time factor as I can’t be with the team every day - that is probably the biggest difference. But as I said before, many of these questions would simply vanish if we had a better car - and the performance was better.

Q: There have been numerous reports suggesting Lotus will race with Mercedes power units next season. Is the deal signed - and what will it mean for your workload over the winter?

GL: I can’t say anything about that.

Q: Is it the case that Red Bull’s financial resources allow them to overcome many of the shortcomings of the Renault power unit, while Lotus fall behind?

GL: I think there are a couple of things. Number one is chassis-wise, Red Bull has been the best team for the past five years - including this year…

Q: But Lotus were good on the chassis side last year - was that all lost over one winter?

GL: Yes, we’ve been very good, but we’ve made a mistake. We’ve made one design mistake that we actually had hoped would help us. We are in the same situation as three years ago when we did the ‘forward exhaust’ and had a terrible season. It’s about the same situation again: we’ve made a choice and it is not paying off - actually it’s the complete contrary. That was a bad choice that translates into a bad season - regardless of the engine. Now the fact that Renault has a number-one team [Red Bull] - and now they officially say it - that is also part of our issue.

Q: So you say Renault’s number-one team is Red Bull, and they are also supplying their sister team Toro Rosso. You can’t be satisfied being the ‘third team’, especially when you don’t know to what degree they will improve for 2015. Doesn’t that dictate that you look for alternatives?

GL: I will not comment on that. But yes, it is true that other engines have proven in other teams that they can trigger success.

Q: What does the uncertain engine situation mean for the development of next year’s car?

GL: As I said, I will not comment on the engine, but we have already started developing our 2015 car - in mid May, learning from the chassis issues we had. And I will not comment on what we will have in the back of the car. (laughs)

Q: So this season, despite getting it wrong, you pretty much have to stick with the car?

GL: Yes, very much so. You are limited in terms of wind-tunnel time, but the wind tunnel is not really the main decisive factor: that’s testing - time on the track. If we were regulated in a way where you don’t allow any crazy developments but do allow measured developments - and good testing - then the measured development would be good development. Right now we are bringing about 20 packages this season. That’s a lot - and costs a lot - and we still don’t have good results. The reason for this is that when you bring something you only find out [if it works] on a Friday on a race weekend - that is counterproductive.

Q: You are serving as interim team principal - will your permanent replacement in that role be a real racer again?

GL: The answer is yes. We are in the process of looking at that. That should be decided sooner rather than later to be fully integrated in 2015.

Q: Somebody that we already know?

GL: Yes, there is a chance. (laughs)

Q: You are P8 in the constructors’ championship right now - with a lot of effort that could become P7. Still not a great situation…

GL: As I said before, 2014 is what it is. It is not the position we are supposed to be in. We have about 470 people in the factory, so it’s still a big team; we have a two year-old wind tunnel, we have two year-old CFD - all the stuff that you need to compete. It was the mistake with the chassis that got us where we are now - and we definitely don’t want to make this mistake again. I am not saying that we will be fighting for the world championship next year, but we should go back to where we’ve been the previous two years.

Q: Will you keep your two drivers for next year?

GL: There is a high chance. One - Pastor - has already been confirmed, and Romain has in his contract - it is no secret that he could step out of the contract given the bad results, but I am pretty sure we will stay with what we have.