Lotus technical director James Allison left Melbourne as a happy man, but he also immediately looks forward to the next challenge. In Malaysia, the set-up work will be mainly about controlling high temperature tyre degradation.
You must be rather pleased to see such an imperious performance from the E21 in Melbourne?
It was a splendid thing we witnessed at Albert Park. It’s days like these, which fill you with complete satisfaction, that makes everything about this job worthwhile and that will be true for everyone involved with the team. We were a little deflated after qualifying as we knew the car had better pace than our grid positions suggested, but every element of the race performance – from Kimi’s driving to the strategy and pit stops – came together to create a fantastic team result.
Were you surprised at how well the tyres lasted? We were confident from the long run pace we’d seen on Friday that we could make a two-stop strategy work, but even so it was hugely satisfying to see the lap times ticking off metronomically without any real fear that the tyres weren’t going to go the distance. Despite coming to the end of a long stint, the final moments saw Kimi pulling out fastest laps of the race and it didn’t look as though his tyres were dropping off. He wasn’t struggling or showboating at the end, he was just running at the pace the car was comfortable with, which is hugely encouraging.
A few niggles in testing coupled with the unpredictability of this year’s field made it hard to gauge where Lotus stood heading to Australia; would you now consider the E21 a certified front runner? I think mechanically we have a strong car. As said repeatedly since the beginning of the season, the annoyances we had in the garages were just that – annoyances – rather than worries. We’ve clearly shown that by running both drivers – problem free – to the flag. Kimi was full of praise for his car on Sunday night and both drivers showed decent pace at various points in the weekend, but I think if you look at Romain’s post-race comments it shows how marginal these things can be. Getting the set up just so and having both driver and car working in harmony is far from a given, so there’s no room for complacency at all.
How different is the challenge in Malaysia? Albert Park is not an average F1 track. It has a lot of similar, medium speed corners, but not very much from the high and low speed ends of the spectrum. Also, the race was conducted in cooler than expected conditions. When it is cool, tyre wear is dominated by graining. We were able to make the car work in these conditions, but it remains to be seen whether we can do the same when the wear mechanism shifts to traditional high temperature degradation. One thing we can be sure of is that Malaysia will deliver high temperature degradation in spades. We haven't seen anything other than good long run pace from the E21 so far, but we will have a much clearer idea of where things stand after second Free Practice on Friday. We feel optimistic but it's still very early and anything can happen.
Any changes to the car for the second round? We have an experimental exhaust and bodywork combination, and a new front wing to try out. However, with tyre performance likely to play a critical part in the weekend, we will need to be careful not to get overly distracted trying out new parts at the expense of finding a good setup to make sure that we are using the tyres well. We will be aiming to keep the momentum up and hoping that we can repeat Kimi’s fantastic performance again this weekend with both cars.