Q&A with Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado

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The last 12 months have been quite the rollercoaster for Lotus F1 Team. After spending two years at the front of the field with Kimi Raikkonen leading its charge, 2014 was a miserable campaign that yielded just ten points as the E22 struggled upon the introduction of the new technical regulations.

For Pastor Maldonado, it was a disappointment made all the more gutting by the fact that the team he had left, Williams, went on to finish third in the constructors’ championship.

However, the Venezuelan driver appears to be in a better place this time around. After switching to Mercedes power units for 2015, Lotus has enjoyed a far better winter testing programme that saw Maldonado finish as the fastest driver on both of his days in Barcelona.

Ahead of the new season, we caught up with Pastor to talk about the misery of 2014, his hopes for 2015 and what the future may hold for Formula 1 as a whole.

How has it all gone so far, your pre-season?

Pastor Maldonado: It’s going not too bad, much better than last year in terms of speed and performance, but the main thing is reliability. The car looks very good, no big issues. It’s quite good.

How does it compare to last year’s car overall?

PM: Difficult to compare because it’s a new engine and completely a new car. It’s not like the rest of the teams where it’s a step or continued development of what they had last year. It’s completely a new car, so it’s difficult to make a comparison.

But the engine feels better?

PM: For sure. The entire package feels much better.

The contrast between this test and last year is so big. How far do you think you can go in 2015?

PM: It’s a difficult one. We are right at the beginning of the test. For sure, it’s not enough time to do many things until the last race, but you will see a different car as with all the teams in the first race. Parts are arriving at the moment, every day we are upgrading the car. So it’s difficult to say something.

We hope to keep improving. We have a lot of new components and at the same time we need to have some experience with the engine to try and make the engine work better with our package and try to get 100% from every single particular of the car.

So you’ll head into this season happier than you were last year?

PM: For sure yes. Last year we were unable to make any laps, big problems always around the power unit. This season we are having more time to go out with the car and to do different tests and keep more information for the factory. It’s completely different and especially when you have this kind of new project, you need to see the real competitiveness of the car.

At the moment, we’ve been always jumping on the track for long runs, never for short runs, so we really want to check all the things in the car at the moment. Then next week is going to be more active. For sure, we will try different setups and different things, and hopefully be as good as yesterday. Let’s see. We are not confident. We know there is a lot of potential in the other teams. Mercedes is going to be very strong. Red Bull has a great car. Ferrari looks a very competitive. Williams is very strong as well – so we’ll try to catch them.

Are you quite wary of potential improvement from Ferrari in particular?

PM: Ah I’m not worried, but it is clear that they had a jump. It’s difficult to say about the fuel level and things, but normally they usually don’t run with an empty tank. We’ll see. We should have similar fuel. They didn’t put the soft tires on yesterday. We should be quite close to them. For sure they, at the moment, seem to be quicker than us but not that far – a few tenths. We can deal with that. We can recover. Let’s see Mercedes, let’s see Red Bull. But I think it’s a better point to start with.

And what about your best run yesterday [P1 on Thursday]? Was that more towards a qualifying simulation?

PM: No, we’ve been doing long runs always. 10 lap runs all the day.

This car is clearly a step forward compared to last year. How much of this progress is because of the engine?

PM: I think a lot is because of the engine, it’s clear. But a lot is even because of the team. The car is completely different. If you go into the car, it has a completely different suspension geometry, different roll points – it’s very complex and completely different to last year. The rear suspension as well. It’s quite interesting to test and to see new things in the car, and a new philosophy which is working quite well at the moment.

Do you think you learned a lot from last year and that the team has also learned some lessons?

PM: For sure, we learned a lot. We started to work on this car early in the season, so we’ve been trying to learn from the car last year to put the best into this car and even from the negative things of last year’s car, trying to avoid that and try to recreate something better. These things happen, so it’s not that difficult to understand where to work.

For sure, we will not be the strongest one at the beginning of the season. We need to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have the resources to win all the races. We need to go step by step. I think already this is a very good step, and let’s do our best to keep going like this.

Do you take encouragement from what Williams did by changing to the Mercedes engine and jumping up the order in 2014?

PM: It’s not only the engine, you know. For sure, the engine is very important these days, but you need to make the whole package work together. It’s very important. The cars are heavier than the previous V8s and very complex with these kind of electronic devices with ERS and turbo. You need to try and make everything work together, which isn’t easy even with a Mercedes. You need to transfer the engine power to the ground. It’s not easy, but we’re trying to put everything together.

Is it easier to work with this engine compared to the Renault?

PM: Yes.

In what terms?

PM: In terms of managing the settings, it’s much easier. The engine performance for sure, there is more power in the engine, but it’s not only about the power. It’s how the engine delivers the power. We need to get used to this, with the car and the setup, and from my side as well with the driving. We will need some time. I hope for the first race we’ll be nearly ready; more ready to deliver a good package. I think it’s going to be a good start to the season. For sure we need to wait and be there, but we’re going to be more competitive than last year.

So what would be a realistic target for the first half of the season?

PM: It’s difficult. It’s difficult because as I mentioned before, it’s not a continued history of last year. We’re starting from zero. For sure, what I saw and what the team saw, we have a better material. More reliable. It’s easy to work with, which give us some more time and we feel more comfortable working. The wind tunnel is quite happy, the people in the factory are quite happy. We need to keep working, that’s it. For sure, for us, it’ll be very important to start in the top ten, fighting always for the points.

You mentioned that there’s not much time until the first race. Is it frustrating that Jolyon [Palmer] is in the car today or are you happy to let the youngsters have a run now?

PM: For sure I want to be in the car for all four days! I don’t care to be honest. There is a good team behind us that is following the plans, and maybe he’s not experienced but he’s a good driver. He showed that last year. Maybe he can contribute with the development. He’s a GP2 champion, he’s a fast guy.

It’s too soon to set any firm target, but do you think there is any chance of winning at least one race this year?

PM: We hope so, but it’s difficult to say. It’s all mathematics. It’s even about the racing situation – you never know what’s going on. We need to see the super-powerful Mercedes and what they have. Let’s see. Let’s start by doing our best to achieve the best. For sure, we want to win. We want to deliver our best. It’s not easy but we are working to achieve that.

What do you think about the new plans for F1 becoming more radical, having a 1000BHP engine and a ‘meaner’ sport?

PM: It’s good and not good. For sure, as a driver, we want even more than 1000BHP. That’s good! Maybe, for the smaller teams, it’s going to be very painful or very hard for them to deal with the cost it creates, because it’s not only that you put in a new engine. You need to redesign everything. We’ll see.

So perhaps F1 should look at what it has at the moment instead of looking too far ahead?

PM: It’s maybe a difficult one from my side. As a driver, I want developments and to go forward in the future. For sure we want more horsepower. We want much faster cars every year. But at the same time we are living in very difficult times. I don’t know if it would be the right moment to introduce these kind of new engines.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”