Mike Gascoyne has led the design team that has turned the return of the Lotus name to Formula 1 from a dream, to receiving an entry in September, to unveiling its first car in London today.
AUTOSPORT was there at the launch to hear Gascoyne's thoughts on lead driver Jarno Trulli, the Lotus legacy and his rival new F1 teams.
Q. This is the fourth time you have worked with Jarno Trulli. Was he someone you always wanted to have in this team?
Mike Gascoyne: I think we get on well personally together, and the one thing over my career is that over one lap Jarno is the most sensitive and quickest guy I have ever worked with. I think that is invaluable for any team. But for a new team, where you are struggling to find your feet, to have a guy who is experienced and controlled – and I've seen Jarno do it many, many times, and at the times I've given him cars that aren't very good, he still can get the best out of it.
He doesn't panic. He works through his program and at times you wonder what he is doing, but then come 3pm on a Saturday, he has done a lap time that you know is as quick as it can do. To be honest, he was always number one on the list. That was, from my point of view and also from Tony's [Fernandes].
The whole driver choice was interesting because we had three groups of drivers, and I very much wanted to get two experienced drivers in because as a new team you need that experience to provide a platform. And, we had a sort of group of experienced drivers with current teams who we thought might be available and approachable, and we hoped we might get one of them.
Then we looked at some guys who had a couple of years of experience, then GP2 drivers and new drivers. Jarno was top of our list and the first discussion we had on it, Tony said why don't we take two experienced guys? Why don't we take Jarno and Heikki? I think that will be a good combination. I remember saying to him: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a new team. Forget it. We are a new team, and they are not going to want to come."
So, the fact we have ended up with them, it shows the commitment of Tony to having the strength of character to go for drivers who quite frankly cost him money. But it is a statement of intent about where he wants to be. I could not have asked for more from the driver choice.
Working with Jarno, we know each other – but the one thing he gives me is that at 3pm on a Saturday, I know the job I have got to do – because that car has gone as quick as it can go. And if we are two seconds off pole position, then my car needs to go two seconds quicker. Simple.
Q. Is this when it starts feeling real now?
MG: I don't think any of this feels real does it? People keep saying to me, do you feel proud? I think I just feel a bit shell-shocked at the moment. The fact that we have been able to do it – you always think you can do it, but you are always aware of the pit falls and when you have done it, and got it there – it is great. I am not bullshitting when I say, given the time, I don't think we could have done a single thing better than we have done.
Q. Do you have an inkling of how good the car is?
MG: We always said that we wanted to produce a good solid, professional car that is a 2010 car, not three or four years old. One that is current and not too far off the back of the established teams. We have to wait and see, but I am confident we will achieve that, and then we have got a couple of guys who have got to make the rest up. From when we got the entry on Sept. 12, it is not possible in modern F1 to be in better shape.
Q. And are you happy it is a green and yellow car?
MG: I think it was very important that it was. There were two things: I think it needed to be a green and yellow car, and it needed to have the chassis designation T127, which is the next Lotus type number. If it didn't have either of those it wasn't a real Lotus.
Q. Virgin Racing has had a tough time in Jerez testing this week. Has that made you more cautious about what you face in the next few weeks?
MG: No. From my side, we are very vigorous in the design process and proof testing process. It is topical but actually the one proof test that we had not been able to do for the shakedown was actually the pylon pull-off test, which is relevant given what happened in Jerez. But the nosebox that is on the car here is being stripped down tonight, and is going off and being flown out on Monday having done that test. That is not because of the result of that [the Virgin failure], but it was the one test that we had not done. So, we have all experienced people in our team, Jarno mentioned it, that he has seen a lot of people he is used to seeing.
I have always said that we will be a professional F1 team, even if we are a small one and even if we started late. And part of that is a rigorous design and testing process. Touch wood. You can never say never, but I think we have done everything very vigorously. And that is my job for these guys. When I allow a car the first time to go on the racetrack, they are entrusting me with their well-being. And when I sign it off to go out, it has to be right. So that is the job we have done.
Q. Did you have any say on the engine choice?
MG: Well there was this thing about, did we have to take Cosworth? I was never aware of anything like that. The fact that when we were making that choice, the only thing we were made aware of in the whole process of entry to F1 was that we had to have an engine, and we had to have a contract in place. And when I looked at the design resource that I had, what was being offered by Cosworth and Xtrac as well, with a gearbox that fitted directly to the engine, with a hydraulic pack and everything that all mated together and tested together, from an engineering perspective there was only one choice to make. There was only one way of being on the grid on time and that was going down that route. So, it was a choice I made and a very simple engineering design choice to make.
Q. But you must have started designing the chassis before you knew that?
MG: From the moment I was asked in May by Litespeed to look at designing a car, we approached Cosworth and we had draft contracts in place. And, with those draft contracts in place, they supplied all the engine details. So, from May, we were designing a chassis to fit a Cosworth engine and Xtrac gearbox.
Q. Coming back to the Virgin car, it is no secret it has been designed totally by CFD. Is that a good design strategy?
MG: I think it is an integral part, but it is not a complete part.
Q. Adrian Newey said this week that he did not think it could be used without a wind tunnel because the two modeling methods are different, do you agree?
MG: Well, I think he is one of the best aerodynamicists in F1. I used to be an aerodynamicist, and my PhD was in CFD, and I think I would kind of agree with him! You look at BMW when Albert II was announced as one of the world's biggest supercomputers dedicated just to their CFD. If you look at Enstone, they built their environmentally friendly CFD center with a huge computing resource. I don't think these guys are idiots, and they also have wind tunnels. I know Bob Bell at Renault very well, he is a clever guy who gave me my first job in F1 and he is a trained aerodynamicist – and I think he thinks you need a wind tunnel. I think CFD is a very exciting technology and it is advancing, but is it an absolute? I don't think there are many people who think it is.
Q. You worked for Toyota with unlimited resources, but never won a race. What are your prospects to do this here?
MG: From my point of view, I actually had a record that was broken at Force India, and I don't hold myself responsible for that, but up until then every team I joined in a senior position from 1994, we had been on the podium within 20 races. And the longest one it took was Toyota – so maybe that was a sign of how Toyota operated. That is probably a little bit of a challenge from where we sit today, but we like a challenge! So we will get on with it.
Q. So will your records be for new Lotus or old Lotus?
MG: That is a very important thing. Clive Chapman asked Tony Fernandes when he first spoke to him, he said would the next win be the first win for Lotus Racing or Lotus' 80th win? And Tony was very clear – it will be Lotus's 80th win.