After a difficult weekend in Spa - with performance falling short of expectations and Kimi’s unbroken run of Grand Prix finishes coming to an end - Team Principal Eric Boullier looks at the positives heading to Monza.
What was your assessment of the Belgian Grand Prix?
Eric Boullier: It was a disappointing weekend, with qualifying not as good as we had expected and then a difficult first lap in the race from which we weren't able to recover. Romain drove strongly with the performance he had at his disposal and Kimi was working his way past other drivers before he experienced his brake failure. Ultimately, it was a race where we should have performed better.
The E21 didn't look as competitive at Spa as it was in Budapest; is this worrying for the rest of the season?
EB: I don't think so, as Spa is a very specific track and none of the remaining circuits have the same characteristics. For this season it is not a concern, but certainly for next year's car we need to understand more why we have struggled at Spa relative to our pace elsewhere as we experienced something similar last season too. Looking to the next eight races, we have quite a few interesting developments still in the pipeline and we're focused on achieving the best results we can.
Could what happened with Kimi's car have been avoided?
EB: We've traced what we believe was the cause of the brake issue to a cooling duct which was blocked by a helmet visor tear-off. It's pretty normal to experience this, and once the brake disc was too hot it could not cool sufficiently. This meant that Kimi's brakes continued to run hot, and we all saw that with the smoke. They were still slowing the car sufficiently - as we could see by his overtaking moves for position - until there was complete failure of the component. With anything like this, you need a component in a precise temperature window to perform correctly. Do you run with more cooling to compensate for any potential blockages? No, because you won't get optimum performance from the brakes as they won't be in their correct temperature window. Of course, we're studying all the data and working on ways to avoid a similar situation from happening in the future. It was unfortunate for Kimi to experience his retirement, but this is sometimes part of motor racing so we must now switch our focus to Monza.
What are the team's expectations for Monza?
EB: It's a very different circuit from Spa and we have an equally different aerodynamic package for the car. The weather is usually better in Italy than we saw in Belgium this year so that could help us. We certainly expect better performance and results than we saw last time out.
Kimi's battle for the Drivers' World Championship received quite a blow; what can the team to do fight back?
EB: We need to get Kimi back on the podium and consistently. His DNF in Spa was the first he has had with Lotus F1 Team and we certainly don't want to see any more this season. He's been on the podium six times so far this year and there are eight races remaining. We all know that the gap to Sebastian [Vettel] is not getting any smaller, but behind Seb the battle is quite tight as we've seen over the last few races.
What does the team need to do to ensure Kimi stays next season and beyond?
EB: It's clear that Kimi likes racing for us and would like to continue, which is a testament to all the hard work put in by everyone at Enstone. From our perspective, we can see what a complete driver he is and how much he brings to the team in many different areas. Kimi wants to be assured that we have everything in place to tackle the significant changes we will see in the sport next year. We're working hard to assure him that Lotus F1 Team is where he should be and piece by piece we are getting all our ducks in a row.
With a frustrating weekend at Spa now in the past, Lotus F1 Team heads to the very different challenge of Monza; whose distinct character certainly presents a challenge, but holds no fears for Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane...
What can you say about Monza?
Alan Permane: It's a circuit that teams and drivers understandably enjoy visiting. The character and challenge are there for everyone to see. In terms of the car, Monza requires a unique approach targeting minimal drag so you can make the most of the long straights. This means we have Monza-specific rear wings while utilising the front wings in a complementary configuration. As well as what you can see on the car externally, there's also the challenge of getting the gearing right to make the most of the circuit's unique flavour.
How should it suit the E21?
AP: There's certainly nothing which jumps up and causes us any great concerns. You need an aerodynamically efficient car - which we have - and a powerful engine which Renault supplies us with. You also need a car that has good change of direction for the interruptions to the straights. Some of the challenges of Monza have diminished over time; an example being the kerbs which are not as aggressive as they once were. You still need to have the suspension sufficiently compliant to enable kerb usage, but it's not as much of a consideration as before.
Will we see a longer chassis?
AP: This is certainly something we have looked at with the lessons learnt this season and we could see a longer wheelbase configuration make an appearance in Monza.
What about the Device?
AP: Monza is precisely the sort of circuit where the Device would not offer any real advantage as the rear wing is running in low-downforce / minimal drag configuration, so the difference the Device could make at different speeds would not be so great. For the same reason, the impact that DRS makes here is not so significant.
What about overtaking at Monza?
AP: Although the long straights can lend themselves to slipstreaming, overtaking at Monza is not actually that easy - not least for the diminished effect of DRS - so drivers still have to work hard to seize any opportunity.
Are you hopeful of better weather than that experienced in Belgium?
AP: As a team the challenge is obviously to build a car which works in all weather conditions, but it's no secret that we'd prefer dry and warm conditions to cold and wet.
What did the team learn at Spa?
AP: It was a frustrating weekend and we simply weren't fast enough in qualifying or the race. Neither car was in a great position at the end of the first lap and we were fighting a difficult battle to try to move forwards with both. For Romain we opted for a one-stop strategy, which required some good tyre management skills from him. This presented the best opportunity to try to gain an advantage, but the speed simply wasn't there from the car. Kimi was driving as you'd expect him to making some great overtaking moves before he had to retire.
What can you say about Kimi's retirement?
AP: Our brakes were running hot in Spa but everything was pointing to there being sufficient durability to get Kimi to the end of the race once we were on top of the situation. What we didn't realise initially was that a visor tear-off strip had become lodged in the brake cooling duct of his front left-hand wheel. This meant that the brake disc was never able to cool sufficiently and ultimately we saw a component failure. It was a hit for both Kimi's and our Championships, but we'll fight on.