INTERVIEW

Peter Collins

Peter Collins, the boss of Team Lotus was not quite sure whether to laugh or cry after the Canadian Grand Prix. Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen had both run in the top six - but both had retired.

For Collins and his fellow director Peter Wright the race in Montreal was vindication for 18 months of hard slog since they took over Team Lotus. At the time it looked impossible that the team could survive. It did and the two Peters began to build for the future.

The first task was to put together a strong team and build a competitive car. Lotus pinned its hopes on a new Ford HB V8-engined 107, designed by Chris Murphy. At the same time, instead of hiring paying drivers, Collins chose to struggle for money but take on two fast drivers.

"Mika and Johnny are both very quick," says Collins. "I'm not the least bit surprised with Johnny's current performances. The only pity is that it could have a year or two earlier. Mika has shown he has terrific natural ability. He's still very young but he's learning quickly."

The 107 has not really had much on the way of testing. It was unveiled on the Sunday morning of the Spanish GP. It tested briefly - and inconclusively - before Imola and Herbert had a collision at the start of the race. With money being a very real problem for the team, testing was kept to a minimum.

At Monaco Johnny qualified ninth with Mika 14th but both retired. In Montreal both were in the top 10. Clearly the 107 is going to be a good car - with a little more testing. But how good does Collins think it can be?

"Really it's very difficult to say accurately what we think we can do," smiles Collins. "This is only our second real look at the car. We had one decent day in Monaco and a decent day here in Montreal. It seems that the car should be a regular top six-top eight performer. It is very encouraging. The circuits we have been to with the car so far have similarities so it is difficult to say how it will be at places like Silverstone or Hockenheim, but I think it will be very good."

Technically the team is doing well, despite the decision to run the cars passive in Montreal. Lotus's real problems remain financial. This has caused constraints on the build programme of the new cars and, of course, on the ability of the team to go testing - which is vital with a new car.

"The financial situation is improving for us," says Collins. "We are very fortunate to have a clearly structured team and a sponsorship division that is almost totally separated from the racing operation. I believe in Guy Edwards we have the best possible representative. I believe that his strategy and manner of operation will be successful in this economic climate. In fact it may be even more effective in this climate. We are looking for serious business partners for a long-term period not for short term deals."

But things are tough in the short term?

"Certainly more testing would be helpful," he admits, "but the return on the investment necessary would not be justifiable. There are certain things which would be beneficial, but I think you can achieve a great deal by a carefully structured plan. We have a very ordered and scientific approach to developing the car. I'm not saying that it is the only way and that there won't be occasions when we will suffer for it - but, at the moment, we seem to be benefitting. It seems that the car responds very well to changes and it is relatively easy to get it on to the pace fairly quickly."

With a good car, a strong engine and two fast drivers what then can Lotus hope for in the championship this year?

"I think fifth in the Constructors' championship is achievable. It isn't the best we could hope for. It's not impossible that we might do even better. As for Montreal, well, we're disappointed that we didn't make it to the finish. I am sure the car and the drivers were good enough for the podium. At the same time we are all enormously encouraged.

"I believe it is now very obvious that we are making some very serious progress."

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