Lotus F1 Team recently announced that Naoki Tokunaga, Deputy Technical Director, will leave the team at the end of this week to become Renault Sport F1’s Technical Director – New Generation Power Unit. Lotus F1 team claims his input on the design of the E20, including on KERS systems and integration, has been invaluable. The position of the Deputy Technical Director will be vacant for some time, will this make a difference in Kimi and Romains’ performance in the Chinese GP?
Despite grid penalties and mixed weather conditions, the Iceman kept his cool in the heat of Malaysia to produce another fine performance. Now, Kimi looks ahead to China confident that the E20 can move further up the grid.
Two races in – how does it feel to be back?
Two races done, eighteen to go. So far it has been more or less alright for me and the racing isn’t any different than before. The E20 certainly feels good. We’re working to get the steering exactly right for me – and we’re almost there. The speed in the car is good – and this applies to qualifying and race pace. It’s been two frustrating races in terms of where we started. We shouldn’t have started so far back in Australia, and the penalty for changing the gearbox before the Malaysian Grand Prix cost us finishing positions too, but that’s motor racing.
The E20 certainly seems to have good pace…
We can say it looks good so far. The car was very good in qualifying at both races. Romain was third in Australia then I was fifth fastest in Malaysia. At Sepang it could have been better. I made a couple of mistakes in the final run in Q3. I lost some time there, so it could have been better than fifth, fourth or even third. I felt the speed was there in the car. Obviously, it was a good car to qualify.
Race pace doesn’t seem bad either; you’re back to setting race fastest laps…
The race was difficult with the conditions and honestly the best approach was to fight to keep the P5 position. When I first went out on the slicks it was so dark that it was difficult to see the dry line on the circuit. Once I could make out the line I drove fast enough to keep the position. I felt that there was more pace possible from the car but I didn’t want to take any risks. To set the race’s fastest lap is nice, but not as good as winning.
How was the feeling with the Pirelli wet tyres?
It was my debut with the latest wet weather tyres. When the lights went out, I had to take it easy, because I simply didn‘t know how they would behave. Obviously we had done only one installation lap with them beforehand, so we didn‘t even know how to adjust the front wing for the wet race. But the start went okay, we actually managed to gain a few places, but then there was an incident with a couple of cars in front of me, so I had to go on the grass again like in Australia to avoid them. I lost some places, but I made it through the first lap, anyway.
What are your thoughts of the Shanghai International Circuit?
It’s just another race track – I don’t have particular favourites or anything like that. It’s quite similar to Albert Park and Sepang in what it requires from the car so that should be good for us. We have some new parts for the E20 so that should also be good. I’m sure all the other teams have new parts for their cars too, so we won’t know where we are until we get there.
You’ve gone pretty well in China before, you must have a good feeling going there?
I won there in 2007 and that was a good feeling as that was the year I won the World Championship. It’s a proper race track and there are good opportunities for overtaking. Our car looks good so let’s see what happens when we get out on track.
Are you happy with the development progress of the E20 and the evolving relationship with the team?
The team is working very hard to keep us going to the right direction. Obviously, we have a good and solid car to work with. It has been quick everywhere so far. The weather and other situations at the two races we’ve had mean we haven’t seen the best of it. I feel comfortable with my relationship with the team. It’s clear they are racers like me and that is the best way to get the maximum from the season.
The season has started with a great deal of promise, but ultimately not the results deserved for Romain. With another new track to learn in China, the Frenchman is looking for a fresh start to kick off his season
After some time to pause and reflect, how do you feel things are going now we’re two races in to the season?
We can certainly say that we have good performance from the car. We’ve got through to Q3 at both races so the car is performing very well. We were able to fight for the front row in qualifying and the pace in the race is very good. In China I hope we can have a more standard race with everything in order with regards to the start, the race – and not a crazy amount of water on track as we did at Sepang – and we can finally achieve the good result which we are capable of.
Two short races – is this now an issue for you?
When you make mistakes you have to admit it and not repeat that mistake. When it’s not your fault – well it’s not your fault. The first two races were tough and we didn’t get a result. On the other hand I know that we can do some great things in the future races. My season starts properly in China.
What do you think of the Shanghai circuit?
It will be my first time driving the circuit. I’ve been watching some on-board videos and it looks pretty nice. I hope it will suit the E20.
We have a new package which will hopefully be beneficial. I’m looking forward to discovering another new circuit. There are plenty of good, interesting corners by the looks of it. If we get a good result I’m sure it will become a track that I love.
How excited are you about a new aerodynamic package coming for the E20?
It’s great to see how much the factory is behind us and working very hard to give us updates. We’ve had a promising start to the season and we all want to get the best in every area, so a new aerodynamic package is quite exciting; I can’t wait to see how it looks and then experience how it feels on track. Then, most importantly, I want to see the lap time gain.
Now you’ve had some decent track time at two Grands Prix, how comfortable are you feeling with the car and how close are you to delivering 100% from the interaction between you and the E20?
The E20 gives me a great feeling. We have seen some interesting things in Malaysia and we are always learning more about how it reacts. We gained a very good impression at Australia and Malaysia. We have a few areas where we know what to do and a few areas where we know what not to do in terms of set-up. I’m sure for Shanghai we will be able to find the best set-up quicker than at the first two races. I think there is still scope for me to feel more comfortable and confident with the E20, but it’s a very nice car to drive and with the new aero package it should be even better; then with all subsequent packages better and better…
How intense did you find the first two races with your return as a Formula 1 race driver and the back-to-back nature of the two Grands Prix?
A race weekend takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. But when you are in the car, the adrenalin takes over and you never feel tired. When you get back home, you normally need a bit of a rest. You relax and it’s then that you feel tired. Over the race weekend there’s so much happening that you don’t have time to feel tired.
Compared to last year, where do you think we are in the relative order?
We’re definitely a step forwards, we just need to be able to show this in a normal race. We’ve seen that we are looking good in qualifying where we’ve been either the second or third fastest team which is very good. There are a few areas we need to improve in the race but we are definitely on course this season.