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F1 newcomer Lotus relishes home race

F1 newcomer Lotus relishes home race

Lotus team boss Tony Fernandes says he can't wipe the grin off his face as the Formula One newcomer performs in front of home fans at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
After six months of putting together the team from scratch, and building cars requiring 8,500 parts, Fernandes was a satisfied man at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.
"When we first announced it, most people thought I had gone completely nuts. That has been with me most of my life ... But it has been a good start," he said.
While still off the pace of F1's leading teams, the Lotus is steadily improving ahead of a major upgrade when the England-based team is back in Europe for the Barcelona race in early May.
And even his drivers are surprised. Finn Heikki Kovalainen, coming from the relative wealth of McLaren, admits he had his doubts when he went to visit the team late last year.
"There were four people working and (technical director Mike Gascoyne) was telling me it is all going to be fine and we are going to be finishing races. I did have my doubts," he said. "But little by little the team has actually very positively surprised me ... things are going incredibly well."
Kovalainen, who had offers from more established teams but took a gamble on joining a startup operation, says the team is professional and just needs "a bit of time to put some performance into the car."
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HOT CHALLENGE: Among the chief concerns at the Sepang International Circuit this weekend is how to keep cool when track temperatures can pass 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
Drivers, clad in three protective layers of clothing, lose up to four kilograms (9 pounds) during the race, and each has their own approach on how to beat the heat.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel said he keeps cool with dry ice and a ventilator.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg said he may wear a cooling vest before he gets into the car _ and will be drinking a lot. His teammate, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, joked he has air conditioning in his car.
However, the main hope of a respite from the tropical warmth comes from above. Malaysia's race is known for it regular rain and thunderstorms.
A storm caused a premature end to last year's event, and while the start time had been moved forward an hour this year to allow for a restart should the rains arrive, Rosberg feared the conditions may cause "chaos" again.
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HISPANIA DOUBTS: Just three races into its F1 life, the cracks seem to be appearing at Hispania, with technical director Geoff Willis slamming the car's design as not up to F1 standards.
"It's missing a lot of tricks that would be taken for granted by anybody in the pit lane now," Willis told Autosport magazine.
The chassis was built by Italian race car constructor Dallara, in a stop-start manner during the offseason because Hispania's former owners had financial problems.
A change in ownership on the eve of the season meant Hispania missed all of preseason testing, and had understandably been well off the pace in the opening races of the season.
However Willis felt the team's struggles ran deeper than lack of testing.
"There a lot of reasons why this design has been compromised, not least because the program was stopped and started, stopped and started," Willis told Autosport. "So there's quite a lot of corners that were cut in the last few weeks to get to Bahrain.
"But fundamentally I'm disappointed at the level of engineering in the car and I don't think it reflects current F1 practice by quite some margin.
"Now you put that down to time, some of it down to experience, some of it down to finance, but even allowing for those things, I'm disappointed with what I see."
Willis, who formerly worked at Williams, Honda and Red Bull, said there was a dilemma over how to improve the chassis design.
"One of the options is starting from scratch," Willis said. "You can reverse engineer to the car you have in the garage, but that's very painful. At that rate you are not going to have anything for quite a few months and that's too late for what this team needs.
"So we need a shortcut way of putting performance on the car. And right now we've looked at our options and we need to make a decision, probably next week."
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PETROV TRIBUTE: Russian driver Vitaly Petrov is wearing a black armband during race and qualifying in Malaysia to show respect for those killed and wounded in terrorist bombings in Moscow on Monday.
Forty people died and at least 90 were wounded when two suicide bombs exploded in two subway stations in central Moscow.
"My thoughts are with everybody affected by this tragedy," the 25-year-old Renault driver said.


Updated : 2021-02-27 03:06 GMT+08:00