2011, March 28

Gérard Lopez: “Proud to have supported Vitaly”

How did you rate Vitaly’s performance in the Australian Grand Prix?
GL: It was a first class drive. Vitaly did not make a single mistake all weekend long, which was his priority this season. His podium was not the result of unusual circumstances: he’s beaten the Ferraris and a Red Bull fair and square. Nick has been unlucky, his car was quite badly damaged after the first lap, but he’s strong.

The Australian Grand Prix has also be a real team effort. Is the team getting stronger and stronger?
GL: There’s no doubt about it. We managed a podium here last year, but today’s result was much stronger. Vitaly earned his podium by right and our car looked even better on race pace than it had shown in qualifying. A good performance from the race team backed up Vitaly’s efforts; the crew delivered clean stops and the strategy calls allowed us to sneak past Webber and hold our noses ahead of Alonso. I’m proud of our guys.

Any downside to the week-end ?
GL: Yes, one. I wasn’t there to enjoy the result!

A lot of people doubted your choice this winter and said that Vitaly wasn’t the best choice for the team…
GL: Well, we’ve proved them wrong, didn’t we? As a country, Russia has been very strong in every sport, from an international point of view: football, athletics…. The only piece missing until now was a competitive racing driver. With Vitaly, Russia now has a fantastic ambassador and we are proud to have supported him.

Does yesterday’s podium bring some commercial opportunities for the team?
GL: Genii Capital and Mangrove Capital Partners have been close to Russia for a long time now. When Vitaly arrived in Formula 1, we had to face two important tasks. The first one was to make him an accomplished driver in the space of a few months. With no testing allowed and the pressure you have to face when racing at the highest level, his progress has been impressive. Secondly, we had to “educate” Russia to Formula 1. There’s been a lot of explaining to do, a sport culture to explain. I’m happy to say that both these processes were successful. Very few people knew what the sport was all about when Vitaly arrived onto the grid. Last season, TV figures in Russia have already doubled within 8 months. This is more than encouraging.

Will this be translated into new logos on the car soon?
GL: As you know, quite a few Russian companies are strong partners of Lotus Renault GP this year. They seem to enjoy what our platform offers and the visibility they get. I’m sure that Vitaly’s showing in Melbourne will attract even more partners, especially as his performance did not look like a one off. I’m definitely optimistic.