Q+A with Lotus' James Allison

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Lotus technical director James Allison gives his feedback from winter testing, why he’s optimistic about the season ahead and tells us where he sees the competition. With confidence he aims at nothing less than a podium at the first race of the season.

Looking ahead to a brand new season, how are you feeling and what’s the vibe with the E21? Right after three tests in a row you feel quite tired as it’s almost like three consecutive Grands Prix. We’re a little frustrated about the amount of time we lost out on track, but we’re also excited, optimistic and looking forward to taking the car to Melbourne and seeing what we can do with it.

What have you learned about the E21 this winter and what do you think it can achieve? I think that from right back in Jerez it was clear that there are a number of quick teams out there. I think it was also clear from the first test that we have the potential to be one of them and the evidence of our running so far hasn’t done anything to dispel that. We’ll be in the hunt for podiums and very much looking for race wins.

How big a challenge are the latest Pirelli tyres? We’ve seen some headlines about the challenge they present, but it’s good to remember that the tyres are the same challenge for everybody and that they’re designed for the racing season, and not the testing season.  We’ve also been using them so far in temperature conditions that are not really ideal so it’s foolhardy to make any conclusions based solely on what we’ve seen so far. I expect they’ll be less dramatic once the season kicks off, but nevertheless I think we can expect them to play a full part in the opening races of this year.

There has been a lot of talk of very big degradation. Is this an issue? You need to put this talk in context of where and when we test. Of all the tracks we visit, Barcelona is one of the more aggressive and Jerez is about the most aggressive. Using tyres which are designed for summer, in the winter, on a track which is one of the most aggressive means that you won’t see the tyres at their best. Even with track and weather conditions far from ideal, we’ve still completed a satisfactory race simulation so we’re not too concerned as a team. When we see the tyres at less aggressive circuits in better weather conditions they will perform better. Yes, they’re going to degrade, but it’s not going to be as much of a story as some people are predicting. And it will make the races exciting too.

How beneficial for the team is the continuity with drivers? It’s definitely beneficial as we don’t have to fret about any of the issues that we would have to with new drivers, such as seat fits and brakes; that’s all long behind us. Our drivers are absolutely match fit and ready to go.

Can the E21 bring a title back to Enstone? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. It looks like we’re entering an exceedingly close season from the evidence we’ve seen so far. Our car doesn’t look bad against the opposition from what we can deduce, and we have a good team and good drivers behind it. It’s certainly closer than last year, but we expected this going into a second season of relatively stable regulations.

Will we see the DDRS ‘Device’ out in action? We’re a step closer to making it happen, but it’s something which is still in protracted birth pangs. It’s a very difficult concept to get right. It’s a passive device so the strength on the fluid switch isn’t very large. The difficulty is making the switch clean, repeatable, strong enough to trip the wing, but for the wing to be sufficiently robust. It’s a very delicate see-saw to ride. Hopefully, everyone will be well aware when it’s on the car and working at full strength.

There seemed to be something of a pre-season storm in a tea-cup about engine mapping? As any good team we were pushing the limits to see what is possible and what is not. You have a set of rules, you want to find out where the boundaries are, you do this by asking questions. We were asking questions to the FIA about what’s possible whilst simultaneously testing what we were asking about on the track. By the time the FIA had looked at it and said ‘no you can’t do that’ we’d also found out we didn’t much like it in any case!

What would comprise a good outing at Albert Park in your mind? A good Albert Park would be a first row grid place from qualifying and a podium in the race. It’s certainly possible.