This is the final transcript of a series of interviews which we conducted during our tour of Team Lotus’ factory in Norfolk. This transcript centers around an interview with the team’s Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen.

HARVINDER: We understand that you have been with McLaren before this, so how does it feel getting into such a new team from the front of the pack all the way to the back?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: When I joined the Team Lotus, it was a decision that was needed. I felt that my previous team, it wasn’t working a 100%, I was not able to perform at the level that I thought I should have done, so I felt I needed a fresh start. Lotus at that point looked interesting to me, it looked like a big challenge but I felt that it was the right place to go and that was the reason why I decided to join the team.

I met Tony and Mike and I felt that it was a serious effort and since working with them this year, I’m more convinced that it’s the right place for me to be and we have a good future ahead of us. A lot of work have to be done but we were able to achieve the goals that we set for this season. It hasn’t bothered me too much being at the back of the grid as long as it doesn’t happen for too long time. I want to move up the grid and I know we can do that. Ultimately we want to get back to the front. It’s not going to be easy, but if we believe in it enough we can do it.

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HARVINDER: What are your personal expectations in the championship? Obviously you want to win the drivers championship, when do you think that’s coming about?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: I think that’s still two-three-four years. When we eventually get to the point when we are competing in the top ten, then it gets very tricky. The top ten is very very tough. There’s Red Bull, there’s McLaren, there’s Ferrari, and there’s Mercedes, teams that are very close together, There’s Renault. The top ten is very tough. We still have work to be done to achieve to get to that point, but once we get there then it’s full game on. But then I think we will have a facility that is good enough, what it takes to be at the front of the grid.

At the moment we don’t have it yet, we need our own wind tunnel for example, but we’re building all the time and at the same time getting stronger and getting bigger as a team, I’m very motivated to work here and this year I’ve enjoyed working here probably more than any other years in Formula 1, so I look forward to the future and look forward to next year.

HARVINDER: So you do see yourself racing with Lotus Racing for quite a while?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: Yes it’s possible, it’s possible and at the moment the rate of development and the rate of progress is better than I was expecting. I’m very comfortable in this team, I enjoy working with these people, with Tony, with Din, with Nasa, with Riad, with all the Malaysian guys as well as Mike here at the factory, so at the moment I have no reason or no second thoughts at all. If anything it is more convincing than a year ago that this is the right place to be.

HARVINDER: So you do see a Red Bull in Lotus Racing, where in a certain number of years, just a few years, it can come up and contend in the championship and all that?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: Yes absolutely, I think that this has to be our target and I think we need to set ourselves high goals. I said that myself that I don’t want to be just an average team at the back of the grid, yeah we want to get better and I know that the people in this team know what it takes what we need to put in place to be able to do that.

And that’s why it’s very important to keep working flat out, but I’m going to keep pushing even though the car is not quick enough. Because when we arrive at the point that the cars are quick, then we all need to be ready. Like I said if we believe it, we can do it and if we believe enough then we can definitely achieve it.

HARVINDER: Back to the car, what you didn’t like in this year’s car?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: It didn’t have enough grip first of all, the down force level was poor and reliability wasn’t as good as we wanted. But it was more bringing down to our suppliers especially the hydraulic system of the car was very weak. Apart from that the car, in terms of balance, we were able to find quite a good balance in the car. It was comfortable to drive, but it was just lacking grip.

And lap time, every time across the start finish line, it was too slow. So as simple as that. Anyway it was a car that was built in a rush, not by our designers but by other people in Germany when the team was not even set up yet so if you look at the starting point I think it was a good car, relatively good car to the time that it was given to design and develop and it still beat the new teams. Our target was to beat the new teams and we did that so we can be pleased about that.

HARVINDER: What do you feel about next year, using Renault engines will that propel you up in the grid?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: The engine and the gearbox is not going to be the main key, we’re going to have our own chassis, which is more lighter, much more modern and much more, generally just much better chassis that is more up to Formula 1 standards and I think the key element is going to be aerodynamics. We know that at the moment our wind tunnel is not the best yet and in fact, our own wind tunnel we’re starting to build it.

That will be crucial for our aero team to do their work at the maximum, so it’s not going to be good enough for them this year, next year, but I think it will be a lot better and I think we can achieve the target that we set for next year. The Renault engine, the Red Bull gearbox and the whole relationship with Red Bull, I think is very important for our team. They are the benchmark at the moment, I think it will benefit us a lot and I’m really happy and is very positive that team has taken these kind of decisions, these are the kind of directions that we’re going to take now. We’ve taken that and we’ve gone to that route so it’s all positive.

HARVINDER: You’ve tried out the new Pirelli tIres. A bit different from Bridgestone?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: A bit different, but not big enough difference to cause a problem, the problem, trouble, I think it will cause teams to set up the car a little bit differently. The rear tires seem slightly weaker and the front tires seem slightly stronger, but in terms of the order, where the teams are going, I think will be exactly the same as they were Bridgestones.

If you put these tires for this year’s car, I think the qualifying results will be similar. Then maybe next year somebody can design the car, that is working better for this tires, better than some of the teams, but my feeling is the Pirelli is a company that can make a very good tyre. It will not cause any surprises for any of the teams.

HARVINDER: Okay what’s your comment on this whole name issue with this team, that Group Lotus may come in and you may not be able to race under Team Lotus. What’s your comment?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: I think as far as I understand we will be able to race under Team Lotus, we have the name. Whether there will be two cars featuring Lotus, then I don’t know, that’s not really our problem, if there is, I don’t think. I haven’t got too much into that, I left it to Tony and Din and to Nasa to sort out and to Mike. All I’m interested in is how our guys are performing, whatever we are called and I think the important point is that the people in our team are still very good people and as a team we’re working very very well. Regardless of what we’re called and I think it’s the people that make the team not the name.

I like the Team Lotus name, I like the Chapman family, I think they are great people and the spirit that they had, that Colin Chapman had in his team few decades ago is similar to do that so I hope that we could keep that. If not I think we still have the same people in the team so I don’t lose my sleep overnight because of that.

HARVINDER: So you don’t think the passion in the team, the performance of the members of the team which change, if say it is not green and yellow anymore?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: We know that we’re not going to be green and yellow, we’re going to be gold and black (Team Lotus has recently confirmed that it will in fact revert back to green and yellow).

HARVINDER: If it’s not gold and black, no difference at all?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: No, I don’t think so, people as far as I can see, the people that I know in this team, they are here to achieve the good results together. They believe they can do a better job than the other teams, we can be more united and better than other teams. I think they’re not too bothered about what we’re called. I think generally people love the Team Lotus name and theme and the history of the team and the heritage that the name has.

It would be great if we could replicate that kind of heritage one day and that kind of result one day, I think people in this team, they like to work here, they like the atmosphere and they like to work with Tony, with Mike and everyone so I think as far as I see, it doesn’t matter what we’re called.

HARVINDER: Would you say that, because you’ve raced for a number of other Formula 1 teams, is racing for Lotus Racing different, Do you have a special bond here, do you feel something different here, or is it just like any other Formula 1 team?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: It’s different, it’s different I think Tony Fernandes has brought here, generally I think he’s brought to Formula 1 a different character, a different kind of feel. He’s very humble, he’s very open, he doesn’t have any secrets, he tells people how things are. If it’s good or bad. People like him, the employees like him, the people that work for him. He’s had that same attitude at Air Asia that made the Air Asia business and company very successful and I think it works also in Formula 1.

We’re not a corporate team that is full of laws and rules. We’re a group of passionate people, who want to go motor racing, who want to go to the limits. Maybe it’s not as clean as best style as it could be but you know we’re going for it and I think that’s the reason why people like us. I think Tony has brought a lot of that to this team. People are very motivated to work here. The extra hour you know, to make sure to do the job as best as they can. Tony, he’s also very convincing, he’s done every single promise that he has promised so far.

We are expanding, we are taking the right steps, people can see that, they like to work for us and this is very important for the future. If we want to do good results, as a small team we need to get more out of the people and out of the team, than a bigger team. And I think already the first year shows that we did it and if we believe it enough, we can do it again.

HARVINDER: One last question, this year in Singapore when the car caught fire, can you run us through what, how was the experience in there and you had to come out and sort this big flame, which you had to put out yourself?

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN: Yeah of course it was a great race first of all, for me it was a great weekend. I qualified just behind Timo, in qualifying but was, I knew it was a good position for me to start the race and the strategy of the race was perfect so I was able to jump Timo and the other new teams and the drivers very quickly and in fact I was able to lap the Virgin cars, which was very very good.

Performance was really good in Singapore and a couple of laps at the end I was fighting with Michael and Buemi, I thought I will do everything I can to keep them behind me because it’s only two laps to go and we were fighting for 13th position, I think it was. And then Buemi touched me in one corner when I was trying to defend and it broke a little fuel line at the back of my car. And when I got going again, I could see that there was a fire forming, and just coming at the pit entry, just before the pit entry I saw flames at the back of my car so very quickly I had to make a decision, whether I should go to the pits or whether I stay on track.

I felt that the car and fire at the end of the race, there would be a lot of people in the pit lane. So I thought it was better if I stay on the track. I stopped the car on the main straight and found a fire extinguisher. For me it was not scary at all, it was not a difficult moment, I was not worried about myself. I was just worried about if other people get burned, if the car explodes and as soon as I got the extinguisher, I stopped the fire.

It was actually a moment that caught many people’s eyes. Of course it was bad, we wanted to do a good result and we had a good result coming there. But I think we got the moment, we took the moment in front of people in the night with big flames, we got some good pictures. We were quite cool about it. We gained a lot of attention, a lot of respect and also I gained a new nickname, the fireman.