From ESPN Formula 1
As company cars go, the phenomenal Lotus Evora is hard to beat. Adam Hay-Nicholls hands over the keys to its new owner, Mr Bruno Senna. Monaco - and ladies, watch out!
"This is definitely a perk of the job," smiles Bruno Senna. No kidding. As if having a 200mph office wasn't cool enough on its own (I mean, there must be a catch, right?) the accoutrements prove that Senna's talents - his speed, his technical feedback, his zeal with the sponsors and media - are gifts that keep on giving.
We're staring approvingly at the tail end of Bruno's brand new company car, a titanium silver Lotus Evora. Poised like an attack dog, it's a low, wide, pointy-nosed weapon and its target is the mountain that rises behind Monaco, the lucky 27-year-old's adopted home.
The Principality being what it is - a glitzy ghetto for F1 drivers, a Mediterranean Stella Street - the first person I bump into before ringing Senna's doorbell is Felipe Massa. He leaves his peach-coloured condo for his daily jog, and walks around the Lotus making approving noises before Bruno shows up: "Hey Felipe, check out my new toy," waves Bruno, before complaining he's going to need a second parking space.
Till now, Bruno hasn't had his own wheels in Monte Carlo. Instead he's been borrowing a friend's Porsche GT2, blasting it along the corniche to Nice Airport on the occasions he doesn't use the helicopter service, which is conveniently located in front of his apartment.
Generous friend, this Porsche owner: "Yeah, very nice. It's an awesome car," confirms Bruno, who covers the rent on the parking spot, "but the Evora is much better suited to Monaco. The GT2 is very aggressive and it doesn't like the bumps and the roads here are very unforgiving. The Evora, on the other hand, is the perfect car for Monaco. The Evora has the most impeccable chassis.
I mean really, the ride is just sublime. Even Lotus, who everyone knows are the best in the world at this, have outdone themselves. The handling, the balance … I've driven plenty of these, the standard and the 'S'. I've driven the Goodwood hill climb course, and I thrashed the Evora at the opening of the new Hethel Test Track. I'm really excited to have this one of my own."
Bruno will soon have his hand in the development of Lotus's future models. The designs for the new Esprit and Elite certainly look the business. Bruno's job will be to apply the performance to match.
"I'm really looking forward to getting busy with that," he enthuses. It's not the first time a member of Bruno's family has been drafted in to fine-tune an iconic supercar. Uncle Ayrton had his fingerprints on the Honda NSX.
"I remember sitting on Ayrton's lap, driving around the Algarve in his NSX. He let me steer around the corners while he did the pedals and the gears. That was probably the coolest memory of my entire childhood. He was going pretty fast and I wasn't really quite legal to drive!"
We are due a visit to the jet wash. Bruno's car may have been freshly delivered, but not on the back of a flat-bed truck. Instead the Brazilian had entrusted me to drive the Lotus all the way down from its Norfolk birthplace. It had taken a circuitous route, via Paris and Valencia. It even gate-crashed a wedding in La Rochelle en route. Surely wedding crashing should be a staple of all good road trips.
A sports car like the Evora is designed with singularity of purpose: to have fun. But its horizon-hunting performance and figure-hugging cabin makes the driver feel he's on a mission at all times. In my view, driving five hours to help a bridesmaid make the church on time, and then scoff the canapés before pushing on for another five hours of continental cruising is up there with any mission 007 may have encountered on Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's a Lotus, you're meant to feel like Bond.
When I picked the car up from the Hethel factory it had just 25km on the clock. Now it reads 3500, all completed in the past 96 hours. It's nicely run in now, I reassure Bruno. "When do I have to take it for its first service?" he asks, disparagingly. The front of the car is caked in dead flies. There are so many it makes the Evora look like it's got a beard. So off we go to the car wash but, heavily populated
Monaco being as it is, the queue of Ferraris and Rolls-Royces before us is an hour long. So we turn to DIY. Our photographer grabs a power hose while Bruno starts working on the windscreen with an oversized yard brush.
Now the Lotus is as pristine as the gleaming gin palaces that bob in the harbour. We crawl around its edge along the grand prix course, but in the opposite direction; through the tunnel, tight around the hairpin, past the famous casino and up to the hills where Bruno trains on his bicycle.
Ahead is a 2CV, its engine sounding like a manic sewing machine as it struggles to scale the road. Bruno drops a gear and the scenery flies by like a time warp as we dispatch the little Citroen.
"You really want to punch the loud pedal and play with it. I need to be careful not to get in trouble with the police in this car," says Bruno, ignoring his own caution as he presses a button marked 'Sport'. The engine immediately perks up, the throttle becomes much more sensitive, and the car pulls forward like a savage dog on a leash. The driver starts throwing the Evora into the corners, giggling to himself.
Bruno's first car was an Audi S3, but driving back home in Sao Paulo is something he's never relished. His family's cars are all armoured to withstand the potential for crime there: "Armouring cars completely destroys their normal behaviour, so driving in Sao Paulo is definitely not what I like doing most."
Under the watchful eye of CCTV, Monaco is probably the safest place in the world to live. The favelas here are belle époque. And the switchback roads reward this new Lotus owner. "The car is very stable into, during, and out of corners no matter how tight they are. I love to drive on these twisty roads, they're great fun. This is my cycling route. I often go bike riding here with Alex Wurz, but he's a bit too quick for me. The old man's got skills! Sometimes after climbing for an hour we bomb back down at 70mph just to dry up the sweat, you know? Ha ha!"
Bombing down this time we get to dry the car, and thread down into town and back to Bruno's Fontvieille pad. We receive more than a few admiring glances along the way, which is some feat in a town with wall-to-wall supercars. "There aren't many of these here in Monaco, it's a rare and also very attractive car," notes the Brazilian. "Everyone is curious to know what it is and, of course, who's driving it."
Posing is one thing, but as for driving road cars - even a premium sports car like this - I wonder whether, to someone who races F1 cars for a living, burbling along on the public lanes feels numb. "There are only a few road cars that give me thrills after learning what a race car can do. Fortunately the Evora ticks all the right boxes and makes me excited to drive it."
And, to make sure it has sunk in, Bruno repeats himself: "I definitely need to behave or else I'll get into trouble." A sexy sports car and a fun loving racing driver - I reckon only good will come of it. "I'm fairly sure this car is very successful with the ladies," he nods. Lucky so-and-so.
Adam Hay-Nicholls is editor of GP Week and Formula One correspondent for Metro UK and Metro International
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.