Inside Lotus, Interviews

Q&A: James Allison – “There are things that are special about Bahrain which might make us more optimistic”

Technical Director James Allison talks through the difference between Kimi and Romain’s cars, how changing the damaged nose in China wasn’t worth it and why he’s cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming Bahrain GP.

We’re 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship and 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship which isn’t a bad place to be; talk us through China from your perspective.

It’s not as good as 1st and 1st but it’s definitely ok! The race was good. Considering we had a grim start and were then involved in a tangle with [Sergio] Perez on lap fifteen, it was a reasonably strong second place so we can be quite happy with that. It’s also satisfying to see that the cars have gone adequately well at a number of tracks now; albeit slightly masked by the rain in Malaysia. Having said that, I think we’ll only be properly happy as a team when we’ve got both our cars up where they need to be, and that’s really the main focus now.

Tell us about Romain and the problems he’s having with the car.

The truth is that it’s certainly not Romain causing the problem. Romain is fast, smooth and good at looking after tyres, however we have not yet managed to give him a consistent car that lets him bring his talent to bear. It’s not him; it’s that we haven’t got it quite right for him yet and what seems to be clear from Kimi’s weekends is that the car is a tricky little beast to get just right. We have managed that with Kimi in two of the three races and we need to make sure we’ve giving Romain all the opportunity to shine as well.

Some people might ask why you wouldn’t set up the car exactly the same as Kimi’s if it seems to be working for him. What are the complications between the two different cars?

First of all, both drivers don’t want the exact same thing out of the car. Kimi has a driving style which uses the front tyres a little heavier than Romain, while Romain uses his rear tyres slightly more than Kimi, so they need a different set up anyway. Secondly, we’re not completely certain that even if we were to bolt the same setup onto both cars that we would get the same result in any case, so it’s not just as straightforward as saying we’ll put the same set up on and everything will be fine.

Kimi had a bit of trouble with his nose in China too after that tangle; did it affect his performance and why did we decide not to change it?

We definitely shouldn’t have changed his nose. It probably cost around a quarter of a second a lap and he did it on lap fifteen, so if we multiply that by the remaining forty laps then we lost about ten seconds by the end of the race. A pit stop with a nose change would have cost and extra seven seconds over a standard stop, so you might say we should have changed it and saved ourselves 3 seconds to Fernando [Alonso]. The reality however, is that with Kimi’s position in the race a pitstop would have dropped him down into all the traffic and we would have paid a much heavier penalty than the three seconds difference. The best option was what happened; Kimi adapted his race to make the most of what he had and drove very strongly with a damaged car to come second.

Based on recent form, Bahrain is potentially a strong track for us; do you think it will suit the E21?

We certainly went well there last year and I hope it will be good for us this year as well! There are things that are special about Bahrain which might make us more optimistic. For example, it is one of the most aggressive tracks on the rear tyres and if we have a particular strength it does seem to be that when we get the car set up just right it does seem to use the tyres rather gently. Secondly, in Kimi in particular, we have a driver who is able to get the car to go quickly without really burdening the rear axle. While we are looking forward to the weekend, it is abundantly clear that there are several very strong teams this year, so we can expect a tough fight as always.

What’s in the Bahrain goodie bag?

We won’t be bringing anything particularly revolutionary on top of the China upgrades, but we will trial a suspension modification – internal rather than to the wishbones – which is an evolution of something we ran to good effect during pre-season. You’re always trying to find the right compromise between the mechanical grip that the suspension’s articulation offers to the tyres and holding the aerodynamic platform at the optimum height from the road, and we believe this is a step forward in helping us achieve that.

When could we see the DDRS making an appearance?

Not for this race as we still have work to do with it. We’ll be trialling the DDRS again between the first round of flyaways and the start of the European season when we have an opportunity to do some straight line testing.


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Lotus proActive is an e-magazine published quarterly by Lotus Engineering, covering engineering articles, industry news and articles from within Group Lotus (Cars, Engineering, Originals and Racing).


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