Although clearly not happy with the frustrations of getting his race car where he wants it to be in the shortest possible time, Romain Grosjean is quick to see the positives and potential as Lotus F1 Team heads to the second race of the 2014 season in Sepang, Malaysia, this weekend.
What will be the main challenges at Sepang?
Romain Grosjean: The first challenge in Malaysia will be the heat, humidity and usual rain storms at 4pm! For us as a team, the target is to move forwards and improve. The race in Melbourne was basically a good, long test. It wasn't easy for the guys but I'm happy we did a lot of laps in the race. We gathered some useful data and we will now improve using that data. The aim now is to have a straightforward weekend at Sepang, working through our proper schedule in free practice, then carrying the benefits from that over to qualifying and the race. Sepang is one of my favourite circuits and I'm looking forward to it.
There was a big step up on race day in Australia. Does that give you faith that more progress could follow?
RG: Whenever we solve a problem we make a big step forward, whether it is with set-up, the engine or any other developments. We've seen this happen with other teams too. We are feeling greedy at the moment. We want to keep making big progress like in Australia, not just one or two tenths, but big chunks of time and of course better reliability. We'll prioritise and work as hard as we can to achieve that. The mechanics definitely deserved a rest after Australia though. They worked long hours all weekend and still did some of the fastest pit stops in the race. The guys were excellent and with a work ethic like that there is no reason why we won't get on top of this car soon and exploit the huge potential of the E22.
How different is the driving experience in a Grand Prix now after the technical changes?
RG: It is not quite as pleasant as before to be honest. There is a lot of energy recovery to deal with and optimise. You cannot drive most of the Grand Prix at 90 per cent as before, sometimes now it is only 30 per cent. We just have to get used to it. When you win you love it and when you retire, you don't. At the moment it feels a little frustrating as a driver but these are the rules, we will adapt and make the best of them.
We saw quite a bit of drama in Australia, how do you think the season will progress?
RG: It will not be easy for anyone. We have seen some of the favourites going out or having problems and others that we were not expecting to be up there make an impression. It's a bit unpredictable at the moment and not easy to know where everyone stands. I think Mercedes is looking good, as is McLaren. Our task is to get up there and amongst them.
What did you learn in Australia?
RG: That we still have a lot of work to do! Other than the early finish, the Australian Grand Prix was positive. We learned more about the car in 44 racing laps than during the whole of winter testing! The team has done so much work and each of the changes have been in the right direction. It was looking good in the race and then we had the same problem as Pastor: the MGU-K shaft. But at least there is no mystery about what happened and we are working with Renault Sport F1 to solve the problem.
Overall we are happy with the chassis, the aero balance for the changing fuel load, the driveability of the engine and the fuel economy. Of course there is work to do with energy management and recovery and we know Renault Sport F1 is responding to this. On our side we know more about the set-up and the direction we must go in order to make the car better. Braking for example was not perfect, but that is also to do with the tyres. The new tyres are really hard and their handling characteristics have changed. We are not getting the best out of them yet, but we will. There are plenty of areas for us to play with, but we now have a clear base set-up for Malaysia.
With his Lotus F1 Team Grand Prix debut completed, Pastor Maldonado looks forward to the challenge of one of the toughest races of the season.
What are your thoughts looking to Sepang?
Pastor Maldonado: Sepang is a good track and I really like the challenges it presents us with. It's very interesting from the car point of view, especially the aerodynamics, but also the tyres because the asphalt is very aggressive. Hopefully this event will go more smoothly for us compared with Australia. We know we need to work very hard to achieve our aims and objectives for the E22. We know where our main focus lies and as a team we are determined to get there.
The weather can be quite interesting at Sepang...
PM: We know the weather at Sepang can change a lot; in fact it is usually either extreme heat or extreme rain, so very tropical and we'll need to be ready for everything. Also the extreme temperatures are hard on the cars in terms of reliability and from the driving point of view it is quite stressful as well. All round, I would say Sepang is one of the toughest races of the year. We'll need to be strong in all areas.
How much were you able to learn from your laps in Australia?
PM: A lot. It was the longest stint I've done so far and that's very important for the engineers who can now work through the data and find improvements. Naturally, our immediate priority is to finish the races, but in Formula 1 you never stop searching for more pace as well.
There was a lot of progress made during the Australian Grand Prix. Does that give you faith more progress will follow?
PM: Yes, the whole weekend was pretty incredible. To be honest I've never seen anything like it. We started nowhere and we kept on having problems. With these cars, even little problems can take a very long time to fix. Some of the problems are very difficult to diagnose as they are electronic or software related. These all require so much time and focus. The efforts put in by everyone at Lotus F1 Team were amazing. Especially from the mechanics at the track, who worked all day and night, more than 24 hours straight, then still did really fast pit stops in the race. It was inspiring and makes me very proud to be part of this team. The season has not started the way we want, but I know everyone is working tremendously hard to ensure we get the team back to the top end of the grid.
What were the positives after Albert Park?
PM: We made clear improvements during the weekend. The team has shown it is ready to do whatever it takes. This is good because my philosophy to racing is the same and I will do whatever it takes as well. Now we can go through the data and improve step-by-step. It is a long season and we need to be positive because we saw one Renault-engined car finish on the podium after the race. So we know our engine can fight for the podium and now we need to work harder than the other teams. This gives us a lot of motivation going forward. Australia was obviously a very disappointing weekend, but if you look at the positives we did more laps than in the pre-season which is quite encouraging as we have more data which is very important for making progress. We had a very negative free practice but we did plenty of laps during the race which is very constructive for the team. It shows that we'll keep pushing and the hard work will eventually pay off.
What about the car itself?
PM: The E22 has a lot of potential and is feeling better to drive every time we go out. We've had a lot of initial issues with the car, but this has been the same up and down the pit lane. I'm impressed every time I look at the packaging of the car and I know that the work going on at Enstone and with Renault Sport F1 will make the E22 into a podium contender very soon indeed.