Despite building its first Formula 1 car in record time, the Lotus team has emerged as the leading new outfit in the first two races of the season. Even so, team boss Tony Fernandes says Lotus will be keeping its feet on the ground, but while looking at the future with a big optimism. AUTOSPORT talked to Fernandes on his season so far and his goals for the upcoming seasons.
Q. What are your objectives for the first four races and have you achieved them?
Tony Fernandes: Objectives first, if I can be very long-winded about it, is firstly to gain the respect of the Chapman family and the hundreds of thousands of Lotus fans out there, who were questioning whether we were the right guys to carry on the great Chapman and Lotus tradition. I think that's been achieved. I've received Colin Chapman's black hat, so I think that's been a nice touch.
Number two was to get the car on the grid, which we achieved. Number three was to finish a race. That still continues. We want to finish all the races and that will be a key objective over the next four races. Number four is to be the best of the new teams. That continues as an objective. And number five is to improve a little bit every time in each race, and hopefully have a major improvement in Barcelona.
Objectives haven't changed. They won't change during the season. We've got to realize our own ambitions. Of course, I want to be up there with McLaren and Ferrari, but we've got to be realistic. We don't want to stretch ourselves. This is a long-term project and we continue to strive to improve in each race, to learn more and get faster each race, and I believe we can.
The sixth would be to build a new kind of team, and the spirit in Lotus is fantastic, the openness, the transparency, the can-do attitude. Our whole social network and transparency and all that has worked a treat.
Q. To get faster and faster, you have to spend money.
TF: I don't necessarily think it does, to be honest. Toyota spent hundreds of millions of dollars and they never got there. I think it's people more than anything. If someone does an analysis on what's spent in Formula 1, there's a f***-load of waste. The $100 million doesn't equal $300 million of pace, necessarily. And you must remember we are buying experience as well.
So, my salary for [Mike] Gascoyne or for guys who've come with him is with 20 years or 30 years of experience. So I'm getting that bang for my buck. I don't have the structure of Ferrari or Toyota and all that. We have a very flexible structure. People can get on and do the job. So let's see, but we aren't here to come last every year.
We are here to build and improve and improve and money will come also with success. I get very little from FOM, but if I get up to 10th I get a lot more and that money can go into a better car. As the car gets better I get more money. But I don't think I need $300 million.
Q. So you are sufficiently funded for the year?
TF: Yes, no doubt.
Q. Are you still seeking additional commercial partners?
Q. How married are you to the green and yellow? I mean, if someone comes along with a blue sticker...
TF: We've got to be commercial. I had that argument with Williams. I probably would have spent a lot more money if they had allowed me to put in red. I've learned a lot from being a sponsor with Williams and how I think sponsors want to be. You've got to be commercial.
Q. In terms of the next three or four years, where do you see yourself? When do you think you will be a top-10 team?
TF: After Bahrain, I've got the idea that within three seasons we can be up there up in the top-five teams. Top 10, I would hope this time next year we could be up there. I think it's harder for them to find two seconds, but easier for us, because we've had five months. We built a car that was heavier, we got the wrong radiators, etc., so I think we can catch them up.
Race pace, we are not that far away. Heikki was giving Hulkenberg a bit of a race, so I'm confident we can get to the Saubers and Williams and the Renaults and Toro Rossos. It does seem, even when I say it, it seems tough. I hope [to be in the top five]. Lots of things are going to happen over those three years which I think will make it easier for us.
Q. And you are in Formula 1 for the long haul?
TF: Yes. You don't do it unless you are in for the long haul. We are here for passion but also for the business as well. We think it's a good business. I'm very happy with how we progressed. There are going to be same major disappointments along the year, and I think we just keep our feet firmly on the ground and we keep doing the simple things right and we keep building the right structure and I think the world is our oyster.