Q+A with James Allison

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Following the launch of the new E20, Lotus F1 Team Technical Director James Allison looks to the season ahead. He acknowledges that this year's design process was not easy as rules concerning the exhausts and engine operations were adapted until late November.

How different is 2012 likely to be from 2011? If you casually flicked through the regulations you’d be forgiven for thinking that there aren’t many differences from last year, however nestling in there are some fairly profound changes. The most notable changes relate to the exhaust. The teams decided around Silverstone in 2011 that we were going to get rid of exhaust blown rear diffusers, and that point alone requires a very different design concept. Recent car designs have been heavily influenced by their rear exhaust configurations, and the intent of the rule is to stop that happening. The rules on the exhaust geometries themselves have been reinforced by some engine operation rules which don’t sit in the technical regulations, but which arrived by Technical Directive quite late last year. The exhaust issue, although agreed in principle at Silverstone, continued to unfold as late as mid-November, so the challenge has been to roll with the punches as the detail emerged over a fairly extended period – trying to make the best of each version of the rules as they’ve come out, whilst trying to anticipate where the end position is going to be. It’s certainly been an area which has preoccupied us and I imagine the rest of the grid too.

How much will the new regulations affect what we see on track? Last year’s cars had quite a variety of exhaust layouts, with differing levels of success. If the latest rules really have been successful in resetting the power of the exhausts to a much lower level, then that’s an opportunity for a reshuffle of the pack.

What are your feelings on working with two new drivers for 2012? Romain put in two very promising sessions at the end of last season, having not driven an F1 can for more than a year. He jumped in the car and was immediately competitive with our race drivers at the time, in a quite impressive fashion. I think that has gone a long way to getting him the ride for this year. So we’re looking forward to a strong start with him. Kimi’s recent test in Valencia with the R30 showed that he has lost none of his speed and that he is full of appetite for the season ahead. It is going to be great for us to work with a driver of such clear quality.

What is completely new and what is more familiar on the E20? Depending on where you look, some parts of the new car are a ground-up redesign and in other areas we have further optimised the best bits of the design philosophy we’ve adopted for several seasons. As far as the exhausts are concerned, our forward exhausts would now be illegal under the new rules and didn’t live up to our expectations in any case. So that part of the car we say goodbye to and welcome in a complete re-design. The front and rear suspension layouts are substantially revised to try and give us better aerodynamic opportunities. The front wing is a continuation of the concepts we have worked on since the 2009 rules were published. The rear wing system, we’ve continued to try to work on having a satisfactory level of rear downforce stability, whilst having a maximum DRS switching potential.

How much help is the team’s enhanced 60% wind tunnel for developing the E20? The 60% wind tunnel has allowed us to expand dramatically the realism of the tests that we perform in our wind tunnel, so we get the car to more realistic steer and yaw values. Those are pretty fundamental things. That hopefully means that the car will be more tolerant of a wider range of cornering conditions.

How do you expect the E20 to perform? We’ve worked hard and long on the car. We have tried to react to the regulatory picture as it’s unfolded, but we will only really start to be able to judge how well we have done once we start to run the car in pre-season. Even then we won’t really know until qualifying in Melbourne.

The testing schedule is rather different this year – nothing till February, then three tests followed by an in-season test at Mugello – does this make a difference? The testing schedule with Mugello later on for this year gives us a fairly clear target mid-season. If there is anything particularly ambitious that we can’t achieve at the start of the year, that is the point to aim for because it’s our one opportunity to get a controlled test of an upgrade, rather than the type of compromised test when you run on a Friday.

There are 20 races scheduled and a test part-way through the year – how much of a challenge is this intensity for the season ahead? The main challenge of 20 races is finding the stamina to keep up with such a gruelling schedule. We are sized appropriately for the current regulations of test bans and no test teams, and so all of the resources that we have to go racing come from the race team. Those 20 races, which kick-off with three pre-season tests that start in February, then go on to late November. With the exception of a brief window in August, where racing stops for a short while, it’s an unrelenting grind for the guys who are the travelling teams. The challenge is to keep your energy up during what is now a very, very long season.

It’s the second season of Pirelli’s return to F1 – what can we expect from the 2012 rubber? We ran the new Pirelli tyres in the Abu Dhabi test last year. It’s fairly difficult to draw a clear conclusion, because you are not using your regular drivers and this makes it difficult to see the underlying performance of the tyres. But from what we could tell from our instrumentation the 2012 construction was not substantially different in its performance to the 2011 tyre. It remains to be seen how aggressive or otherwise Pirelli will be with their compounding. I’m not expecting big changes.

2012 will also see the second season of DRS can we expect any changes here? Many teams, including us, spent a lot of time last year trying to find the right balance between stability and drag step. It will be slightly easier a year on to get that balance right. For the FIA, who have the responsibility of selecting the DRS switching point on the circuit, each track last year was a new venture for them A year on it will be much less of an adventure or the FIA to choose exactly where to put the DRS line for best effect. In places where by common consent overtaking was too easy last year they will make an appropriate adjustment to get a better result in 2012.