Q+A with Lotus' Alan Permane

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina Circuitae

After a somewhat eventful Indian Grand Prix on the Lotus F1 Team pit wall, the team's Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane looks ahead to the challenge of Abu Dhabi.

The team scored its only race victory of 2012 in Abu Dhabi; what was the secret and is more of the same possible? "Kimi put in a fantastic drive and was able to capitalise on Lewis [Hamilton’s] retirement. Similarly to our current E21 chassis, last year’s E20 managed its tyres extremely well and it happened to do so particularly well around the Yas Marina Circuit. With that in mind – added to the fact that Pirelli have been a step more aggressive in terms of tyre allocation this season – there’s no reason to suspect we can’t have a very strong weekend again here."

What’s the secret to this tyre management? "It’s part of the entire design philosophy of the car. It's something we've worked very hard on over the past few years, but certainly not something we’re going to be making common knowledge! Of course the flip side of this comes at circuits where the tyre allocation is perhaps a step too hard, in which case we struggle to switch the rubber on and our strength becomes a weakness. The aim, of course, is to build a car that is effective in either circumstance, and I think that’s where Red Bull are so strong."

What’s required from the car at the Yas Marina Circuit? "You need a car which is capable of doing two things that aren’t complimentary of each other. You want a setup which is fast down the straights and supple over the kerbs, but also gives responsive change of direction for the chicanes and good grip through the slower second gear corners towards the end of the lap. It’s a fine balance to find between making time down the straights or through the twisty bits. Of course, this compromise must also factor in the tyres as running less downforce can be kinder on the life of the rubber in some circumstances, but at the same time a higher downforce setting will help avoid the fronts sliding on corner entry and the rears spinning up on exit. Having the medium and soft compound once again – as per last time out in India – will be a challenge I’m sure. Making the soft tyre last in the heat of Abu Dhabi will undoubtedly be tough."

Does a twilight race provide an extra challenge? "It doesn’t really affect us in all honesty. We need to keep one eye on track temperatures as they will start to drop away as darkness falls, but the drop-off is not particularly significant. We usually see ambient temperatures of around thirty degrees and this doesn’t change dramatically even in the evenings so it won’t be a problem; particularly with the tyre allocation here."

What’s the latest about Romain’s engine problem in India? "We’re working closely with Renault Sport. The issue seems to be a repeat of the one we faced in Singapore where a leak in the pneumatic system caused a loss of air pressure. Fortunately, we know exactly what we have to do to fix it and Romain’s engine has gone through the correction process put in place after Singapore. Our engine partners are also checking – and double checking - every single race engine at Abu Dhabi to ensure that the same problem does not reappear."

Tyres are a hot topic once again; what tools do we have to prevent things like graining and blistering? "The teams don’t really have much to defend against graining in all honesty. You can set the car up to be more protective of whichever front tyre will suffer the highest stress – the right front in Abu Dhabi’s case – but that will simply delay the onset rather than completely eradicating the issue. The Yas Marina Circuit doesn’t have the same style of long corners as seen in India or Korea, so we’re unlikely to see the same levels of graining this weekend and it should be the same scenario in terms of blistering"