Q&A with Nick Chester (Lotus) on Chinese GP
"We’ve delayed the introduction of some key developments"
Lotus F1 Team Technical Director Nick Chester is certainly a man with much to do after a tough start to the season.
Where does the E22 stand heading to China?
The E22 has tremendous potential even if we are only gradually unlocking it. In the Bahrain Grand Prix we were closer to Mercedes, Williams and McLaren than we have been previously. Our race-pace gap to the Williams and McLaren is now half a second and it was over a second in Sepang, so we’ve made a decent incremental improvement. Although we were still not quick enough in Bahrain, we actually don’t need to find much more performance before we can be regularly in the points, which when you consider where we started from, is encouraging. We are about level with Toro Rosso for pace at the moment. Were it not for the safety car incident in Bahrain, Pastor would have been fighting for our first point. That’s not where we want to be, but we’re on the edge of the points during what are still very early days for the E22.
Lotus seem to struggle in qualifying at present?
Our qualifying pace hasn’t been on the same level to our race pace. We made quite a bit of progress during Bahrain, getting quicker during each session. In Q2 a further 1.2 seconds would have put us fourth, rather than 16th. We know we are still at a very early stage with the E22 – more so than our rivals – and there are clear areas where we know the performance can be extracted.
Just how much more is there to come from the car?
I think we’ve got a lot more to learn about the E22 than the other teams. We learn something every time the car takes to the track, with every lap. We’ve also got some aerodynamic developments that should be interesting to evaluate for China, when we are hoping for a bit more out of the power unit as well, both reliability and pace wise.
Why was track time so limited at the Bahrain test?
It was all power unit issues unfortunately. We’re working very closely with Renault Sport F1 to understand why we have faced so many challenges in this regard. Clearly we all want to put reliability concerns behind us so we can focus on performance and showing our true pace.
How has the relative lack of track time affected the development programme?
It means you have to prioritise what parts to evaluate, so we’ve had to adapt our programme for China because of this. We’re going to attempt to get as much as we can out of FP1 and FP2 in Shanghai to test new parts, but ultimately we’ve delayed the introduction of some key developments until Barcelona now.
What areas are you focusing on with the new parts?
We have a lot of aero parts we want to evaluate throughout the E22, including an evolution to our nose. Expect to see some bodywork upgrades in China and then a bigger upgrade in Barcelona.
What is the outlook for China?
It should be better than Bahrain. Bahrain was an obvious power circuit, as you could see from the way the cars lined up on the grid. China’s got a long back straight, however there are more slow and medium speed corners than Bahrain, so that gives us the chance to try and get closer to the front.
Where will the biggest performance gains come from with the E22?
There are quite a few areas. Partly because of how immature the car is we haven’t managed to evaluate all the performance capabilities we want to yet. The big areas I would say are braking, aero and the power unit.
Pastor was attempting to try a different tyre strategy in Bahrain. Has the E22 inherited the gentle tyre-wear characteristics of its predecessors?
It’s possibly a bit early in the season to say, but it did look like Pastor was going to be quite good on his tyres in Bahrain. The 2014 generation of Pirelli is certainly different from last year’s, but there are always strategy gains to be made from prolonging the tyre performance longer than our rivals.