With just days to go until the first Grand Prix of the 2014 season, and following some of the greatest technical changes in the era of the sport, Lotus' Technical Director Nick Chester gives a frank appraisal of where the team stands heading in to the new season.
Meeting the challenge head on How do you feel heading into the start of this season? "There is a degree of frustration coming away from winter testing. Clearly, we would have liked to have done more mileage and had an opportunity to run our race preparation programme as planned. On the positive side we can see plenty of potential in the chassis. However, as was evident in Bahrain, we have much more work to do with the power unit itself to ensure that it is working correctly with the chassis."
How have the frustrations of pre-season testing affected the short and medium-terms plans for the year ahead? "To be blunt, we are starting further back than we would like to be. I think that the first two races of this season will be very challenging for us, however it also depends on the solutions that Renault Sport F1 will be able to bring to the table too. Overall, and for all teams, we will see much more reliance on the power units than we have seen in the past. Despite this initial challenge, I think that over time those gaps will get smaller and the chassis differences will start to come through, and I believe that the E22 will be a very strong proposition. The start of the season will certainly be interesting for everyone!
How long is it taking on the chassis side to find solutions necessary to fix issues? "The solutions to the problems we have encountered to date are fairly obvious and that means that we should be able to make positive steps in terms of reliability quite quickly. Because of the low mileage runs thus far, the reality is that there might be issues that we have yet to discover, and which might crop up further down the line and compromise reliability in the first few races. There are aspects we have improved on the car at the factory since testing so we’re eager to see the progress once we get to Melbourne."
How have Romain and Pastor adapted to the challenge in consideration of the regulation changes and relative lack of track time? "There is a lot to take on board for the drivers with the new car and they have both done pretty well so far. For both of them to give us rapid and precise feedback is vital for us to be able to find quick solutions to the issues we face."
What are the realistic targets for the E22 in Melbourne? "Our target is to finish the race. As we have done so little mileage it is difficult to estimate where we will be at in terms of performance."
When do you see the team being in a position to fight for podiums again? "I think that we might see a bit of a change in the pecking order as teams get more used to running under the new regulations. It is difficult to predict precisely when this will happen. We anticipate a tough start in the first couple of races but we will see how quickly the improvements come though after that. I am sure that most of the other teams are in a similar position of finding it difficult to forecast anything in too much detail just yet."
How much of a challenge is this for the team at Enstone and what’s the feeling back at base? "As a team we are always hungry for a challenge and we have a strong workforce at Enstone. We are looking at all the areas of the chassis and working closely with Renault Sport F1 to develop the car towards where we want to be. We started preliminary work on the E22 very early and we are quite pleased with the overall chassis package and vehicle dynamics. We have plenty more to do in order to integrate the power unit successfully and achieve the best out of the car as a whole. We will do everything we can to make the E22 as quick as it can be and to realise all of its potential."