Lotus team principal Eric Boullier has said that he was not surprised to see both of his drivers finish on the podium in Korea, believing that the result reflects that pace of the E21 car.
Having started third, Grosjean ran in P2 for the majority of the race before eventually finishing third behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen who had jumped up the order thanks to the safety car periods.
Speaking to NBC’s Will Buxton, Boullier said: “I don’t want to be arrogant but we were expecting Romain to be on the podium and Kimi to catch up in the top six, so obviously the safety car helped Kimi.
“But with the pace of the car, it should be on the podium.”
After becoming embroiled in a battle with Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber for fifth, Raikkonen pitted early in an attempt to exploit the undercut and make up the positions. The safety car period allowed him to do this as well as preserving his tires and allowing him to go to the end of the race.
Romain Grosjean had been Vettel’s closest challenger, but a mistake on the restart following the first safety car period allowed Raikkonen to pass. Despite asking to be given the position back, Grosjean was told that he had to race Raikkonen for the place and he eventually finished just half a second behind his teammate.
“I think he [Grosjean] was a bit disappointed because he made one mistake on the restart from the safety car, and Kimi used the opportunity to pass him,” Boullier explained. “I think he was trying to get some help to pass back Kimi but we said “you are racing Kimi”.
“He was allowed to race but he couldn’t and I think he was a bit upset about having lost his position to Kimi.”
Grosjean will remain with Lotus in 2014, and performances such as this will prove that he can lead the team in the post-Raikkonen era as the Finn prepares to return to Ferrari for next season. His replacement is still to be announced, but Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa are thought to be the two prime candidates.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”