Interview with Graham Watson, Team Lotus Team Manager

Interview by Team Lotus

TL: Mr Watson, Team Manager! It’s the middle of January, the car’s due to fire up soon… What’s going on in your world?

GW: My world is very busy. Obviously with the car there are always ongoing things and it’s a tight schedule up to the first test, plus there’s always lots of production going on in the background. From an operational side we’re heavily into booking everything for the season; flights, hotels, hire cars and all the logistics of moving a Formula One™ team around the world! While we have to manage all of the personnel and car requirements, you have to think about all pieces and aspects of a team. For example, both our race trailers are away having modifications, so that’s all going on as well!

From a Race Team point of view, we’ve had a few additions to the crew, which I believe will strengthen the team and the new guys are familiarising themselves with the current staff and fitting into the team. We have a new Number One Mechanic coming, which is great news. So yes, all in all, it’s a pretty busy time, particularly this year.

TL: This year we have twenty races in the season… Is that a headache for you?

GW: Twenty races actually isn’t too bad. We had nineteen last year, so it’s only one more to be honest, and we managed last year! I was actually looking at the breakdown this morning for the Mechanics; they’re away one hundred and eighty days this year, so if you add the one hundred and eighty days to the twenty-two days holiday entitlement, and their twenty-four lieu day entitlement and the six days bank holiday, then they can actually only be in the factory for a total of eighty-nine days! So when people say ‘oh the Race Team are never here,’ it’s because they physically can’t be! So having twenty races adds to that. It means slightly more time away, but from an operational point of view it’s not really a big headache. We’ve done our recce to India, and we’re happy with where we’re going and staying etc.

TL: And what have you been doing over the winter and during the off-season? Obviously you’re part of the Race Team so you’re away for those days too, plus others for recce trips! What have you been doing to relax?

GW: This winter’s been quite difficult as we’re changing engine manufacturer to Renault and have a new relationship with Red Bull Technology for the gearbox and hydraulics. That change has created some complications for the new car development over the winter, but it’s all for the good. I’ve managed to take some long weekends and obviously we had Christmas and New Year. But to relax, I’m a big rugby fanatic, so really I love just to chill out on the sofa and watch a few games, and spend time with my wife, Fiona.

TL: Which races are you looking forward to this year? Personally, and as a fan?

GW: Personally I really enjoy the long-haul races. I think because most of them are based in a city, or near a city, for example Montreal or Melbourne, they have a bigger atmosphere outside of the track. So when you go outside, people are still hyped up and really interested in what’s going on and there’s such a great vibe around the Grands Prix. This year after Melbourne I’ll be heading back to New Zealand for a quick stop, which will be great, and so that’s the one I’m really looking forward to this time around!

TL: We’ve changed our name to Team Lotus, and we’re making some massive steps forward… How does that make you feel, being one of the crucial cogs in the wheel?

GW: I think Team Lotus name is one of the most revered names in sport, however I truly believe Tony [Fernandes] is right, and that the team makes the team and not just the name. For me, I’ve always been one of those people who likes to do a professional job, and I expect the team around me to do a professional job. Really, we could be called ‘Tinpot Racing’ and it wouldn’t affect the way we work. Having the Team Lotus name is of course a drive and a huge incentive, but as professional people we will always focus on our jobs and do the very best we can.

TL: We’re firing up the engine and unveiling the car soon… how’s it all going?

GW: It’s different this time around as we’re doing some much more in-house. Last year was difficult, but this year is too, because we’re doing everything internally – designing and producing the car – and of course it takes time for people to gel. It can take years for a Formula One™ team to gel properly, and I think we’re making good steps forward in doing that, and we’re becoming a tight unit. The end product will be a better product for sure.

TL: What are your goals for this year, as Team Manager?

GW: My personal goal is I’d like us to be the best pitstop team in the pitlane this year. Period. There’s no excuses why we can’t be. You can sit there and talk about money, but to be honest, pitstops are a very pure thing and the equipment we all use in the pitlane is very standard, bar a couple of the teams. Even then it doesn’t have a huge impact on the times, so we really have to focus on becoming one of the best pit stop teams, if not the best, consistently in the pit lane. The other aspect for me is to maintain the levels of professionalism that we carried through 2010 and improving on those levels and taking it a step forward. If we sit on our laurels, then we will very quickly become a non-professional looking unit. So those are my goals.

TL: What’s the best part about being a Team Manager?

GW: I think the best thing is having a big influence on the operational side of the team, obviously I have no say in the engineering side! But I am involved in the way we look on track, the way we act and present ourselves. It’s something I take a lot of pride in, and with the new staff changes I think we can achieve more and develop even further.

TL: What can we look out for this season?

GW: For the purist, the car will look very different, i.e. the shape of the car will change considerably from last year’s challenger. But for the fans, I hope that the biggest difference you will see is that we’re further up the grid! And that we’re there on merit. 2010 was a brilliant year, but that’s all history now, and it’s about 2011 and people seeing a clear performance improvement on all areas.

TL: Sum up 2010 in one word, and then tell me a word that you feel represents Team Lotus.

GW: Hmm, I’d say ‘rewarding’ for my 2010 word. And for a word that describes Team Lotus, that’s difficult! Just one word?

TL: Yep!

GW: I think ‘passionate’ would suit us. And I think ‘hard’ too – Mike Gascoyne’s influence rubs off on us, in that we are here to do something and we will do it. End of story.

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