Q & A with Tony Fernandes

Tony Fernandes became Formula 1's latest new entrepreneur to reveal his new challenger for 2010 - in the shape of the Lotus T127

Q & A with Tony Fernandes

At the London launch of the new car, the Air Asia owner explained what his hopes and dreams were for his new team, and told the assembled press why it was more important for it to build foundations in it's first year than have lofty aspirations. AUTOSPORT was there to hear what he had to say.

Q. Two of the new teams are struggling to make it to Bahrain, the other one has has a tough time at Jerez, how confident are you in what Lotus has produced and what are your realistic targets?

Tony Fernandes: Well I'm looking at the car and I can't see what a good or bad car looks like. That's my not my expertise, that is in bringing in a group of people, giving them the right environment to work. I think that is one of the things that Mike [Gascoyne] and the team have said - they are enjoying being back in Formula 1.

The power of giving the ability of someone to perform... sometimes when you work in a corporate environment and everything is bureaucratic you don't the best out of people. That's my ability, to bring a group of people together, give them the right environment to do their best. And then get Mike the best drivers.

What are my expectations? I would just love to finish every race in the next year. If we can beat some of the new teams that would be a fantastic start. If we can beat some of the established teams towards the end of the season that would be great. As Heikki [Kovalainen] said this not a one-year project, we are not here to come last every year. We are here to build a proper team, build the right foundations, not have any aspirations but build quietly and confidently. But mark my words we will compete with the very best, over a period and I think we've shown our seriousness by signing three very good drivers.

So the expectation this year is to try and build every race, let's learn a lot.

Q. Is the long term future for the team's factory to stay at Hingham in Norfolk?

TF: I think for the moment we are going to keep our base in Hingham. I think the idea of trying to do two bases just complicates it more, so for the foreseeable future let's give the team the best ability to perform. And so Hingham will be the home for a while and we will see how we progress from there.

We are already out-growing Hingham actually because Heikki is complaining that if he doesn't come by 08.30 he hasn't got a car park slot. You notice the democracy in the team! That wouldn't happen in other teams - Formula 1 drivers would probably have their own parking slot...

We like the feel, there is a good vibe, good environment and I don't want to destroy that so quickly, so let's build it slowly and see where we go from there. I don't have any longterm plans, right now it's Hingham, and give the best ability for them to perform there within a stable environment and then we will see. Maybe Malaysia will be an eventual home if we can have better facilities and we can grow it and we have an F1 track right next door. Right now it makes a lot of sense to stay where we are.

Q. How do you expect the relationship between Trulli and Kovalainen to work?

TF: I think the key thing is that we really are a team, not a group of individuals and the success of Lotus will be as a team. If you look at the way Heikki, Fairuz [Fauzy] and Jarno [Trulli] work together, I think that is a much better approach than having two drivers trying to out-do each other. I think they will use their energy to try and make the team a better team and I'd like to see them channel their positive energy. Of course they will be competitive, that's the way they are, they wouldn't be in F1 otherwise, but I think they will use that in a positive way to build a better team.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about Proton's involvement?

TF: Well Proton obviously owns Group Lotus and the idea behind this is that we will have more synergies with Group Lotus. Who knows, one day could be all reunited.

Q. Proton is putting money into the project now?

TF: Yes they are. And obviously they will have some technological spin-offs and hopefully they can use our platform to show the world... obviously they have had some maybe not so positive experiences on some television programmes, and I think they could possibly use being in F1 to show they make world class cars as well. So it's a technological collaboration, there is money behind it as well, but the main drive will be to improve Lotus.

Q. This team obviously grew out of the Litespeed Formula 3 team that was considering building it's own chassis. Could we see a Lotus F3 chassis in the coming years?

TF: We had two or three developmental teams and it shows again our seriousness about this that we had put money behind Fairuz in the Renault series and we will assist Litespeed as well. Both of those teams will be development teams for us, so it shows you that we are taking this seriously as a longterm project. We have put a substantial budget behind that because it is very important to not only develop future drivers but to develop engineers and know-how, and commercial-world know-how in running a Formula 1 team.

My experience at Air Asia, one of the first things I did when we made some money, was to build an academy and we trained our own pilots and engineers etc and we invested a lot of money. When I looked at West Ham the thing I liked about them most was the academy. So we are putting a lot of effort into the development side of the team.

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