Lotus in limbo with midfield out of reach

2011 F1 season review

Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus, Nurburgring, 2011

Kovalainen had a strong season for Lotus

Lotus took a step closer to the midfield in 2011 but rarely raced convincingly with the cars immediately in front of them.

With Virgin and HRT lapping a second or more off their pace, that usually left the two T128s occupying a limbo territory with little real racing to be done.

When an opportunity to race with the quicker cars presented itself, it was usually Heikki Kovalainen who took advantage.

He snuck into Q2 in Belgium at Paul di Resta’s expense on a drying track. He also did so at Silverstone.

But his best drive came at Singapore, where he held off Vitaly Petrov throughout the race.

This battle hinged on rapid pit work by the Lotus crew although Kovalainen came alarmingly close to taking out leader Sebastian Vettel as he left the pits. Lotus were fortunate to escape more serious punishment as the team had also been penalised for an unsafe release in Hungary.

Lotus team stats 2011

Best race result (number) 13 (3)
Best grid position (number) 15 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 9 (8/1)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,918 (84.64%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2010) 10th (10th)
Championship points (2010) 0 (0)
Pit stop performance ranking 10th

Kovalainen finished the race in front of the Renault. This was to the delight of team principal Tony Fernandes, who at the time was in the middle of a the long, bitter battle with the team over the right to use the name ‘Lotus’.

Kovalainen also led his team mate home in Suzuka where, for the first time since 1987, both Lotuses finished on the lead lap. Their performance was somewhat flattered by a safety car period, but it was another sign of their progress.

Having switched to Renault engines and Red Bull gearboxes over the winter the team had much to digest on the technical front and this manifested itself in several reliability problems. But they development until the final race of the season, introducing a new rear wing in Brazil, but still fell short of escaping Q1.

Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne said the exhaust-blown diffuser was “the single biggest thing to cope with” in terms of development:

“Obviously in 2010 we didn?t have it, so we worked on it over the winter and what became clear from pre-season testing was that the blown floor concept had clearly been taken a lot further than expected by the major teams, and we were therefore still quite a way behind on that.

“Although we reacted to that and had, in Turkey I think, our big update to the blown diffuser, we, along with a lot of other teams trying to introduce such elements, struggled to get the performance out of it.

“We weren?t able to get the numbers out of the diffuser that we were seeing in the wind tunnel. The numbers were there but we just couldn?t translate them to the track. Teams that had the technology for a while and that had more opportunities to test it were able to do that. Ultimately that is the real reason why we didn?t manage to close the gap to the people in front.”

Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus, Suzuka, 2011

Trulli rarely troubled Kovalainen

A persistent problem with the power steering affected Jarno Trulli far more than Kovalainen.

He had some bad luck as well. He made a good start in Singapore only to be taken out by Jaime Alguersuari. He was hit by Narain Karthikeyan on the first lap in India.

Felipe Massa collided with Trulli in Italy and in Canada a loose component in his car forced him to stop to have the problem investigated.

When the car and track were to his liking Trulli showed he can still turn out a good result. Such as in Monaco, a track he has always thrived on, where he claimed 13th place.

But all too often he was off Kovalainen’s place, usually qualifying and finishing well behind his team mate. The team announced in September Trulli would be retained for 2012 but that hasn’t stopped rumours he will be dropped to make way for a Red Bull Development Driver, most likely Daniel Ricciardo.

Karun Chandhok, Lotus, Nurburgring, 2011

Chandhok struggled in his single outing

It was Trulli who was compelled to give up his seat to make way for Karun Chandhok at the German Grand Prix. However the Indian driver struggled in his one-off appearance.

Against expectations, the team did not bring Chandhok back for the Indian Grand Prix, preferring to concentrating on holding their vital and valuable tenth place in the constructors’ championship.

Having relinquished the Lotus name to Renault, the team will become Caterham next year. But in more tangible areas such as the engine and gearbox they will benefit from stability and have the opportunity to add KERS to their car, an omission which clearly hurt them at times this year.

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45 comments on Lotus in limbo with midfield out of reach

  1. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th December 2011, 10:56

    I liked the way Tony Fernandes talked up the team’s chances for 2011, boasting about scoring fifty points. Especially the way the team then proceeded to celebrate their achivements at the end of the year, despite having failed to meet any of their goals.

    • John H (@john-h) said on 8th December 2011, 11:06

      With KERS and John Illey next season perhaps they can give your beloved ‘Lotus’ a run for their money next year.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 8th December 2011, 11:19

        I never said I liked the new Lotus any more than Caterham. I only said I disliked Tony Fernandes because he spent most of 2010 telling everyone that he was only looking to add to Team Lotus’ history, and then most of 2011 claiming that he was Team Lotus. At least Dany Bahar was up-front about his intentions to be Team Lotus from the start. If I supported the team, it was because I support Vitaly Petrov (I tend to back drivers before teams). If Petrov stays, then I will continue to support them by proxy (though Kimi Raikkonen is one of my least-favourite drivers in the sport’s history). But if he leaves, my support for them ends.

        • John H (@john-h) said on 8th December 2011, 12:24

          Fair enough. I’m not a huge fan of Fernandes myself but of course he’s going to try and big up any achievement even if they didn’t meet their targets, just for team morale if not for anything else. I’m sure privately they will look at why they didn’t meet their expectations at the start of the year, probably a lot down to the reliance on EBDs as highlighted in the article.

          I guess I was kind of reacting to your predictable comment with regards Fernandes’, especially in light of the terrible season Renault (Lotus) have had.

          http://totalf1.com/full_story/view/363623/Boullier_targets_race_wins_in_2011/

        • At least Dany Bahar was up-front about his intentions to be Team Lotus from the start.

          Actually, only a year ago, Bahar said “We are not claiming to be Team Lotus or to become Team Lotus. Team Lotus is something that should rest in peace. They had a glorious past and incredible success. We do not want to become a second Team Lotus, we will never be one. We are a car company trying to come up with a new Formula One programme.”

    • Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 8th December 2011, 11:25

      Yeah, liked that too. Especially M.G’s mumbling how he was proud and disappointed etc.

      Again, I object claims of “taking the fight to the midfield” from T.F. camp. The only times when Team Lotus fought the midfield, was when either Williams, Sauber, LRGP or Toro Rosso was hit by a penalty or had to make an extra pit-stop. Hardly a straight fight.

      On the other hand, if we treat those bullish statements as non-existent, then Team Lotus achieved success. They broken off from Virgin and HRT for good and in 2012 midfield looks really realistic. T.F. needs to learn that goals should be established on the basis of sport factors not PR. We all know nobody would speak about fifty points and beating LRGP if there was no Lotus name row. Interesting thing: the so much hated by some LRGP admitted failure to achieve their goals, never spoke about their goal being to kick Team Lotus’ butt and them speaking about joining top 4 pre-Kubica’s accident was justified.

    • I must admit PM in an evil way it was kind of funny to see that. Lotus did make massive progress pace wise and were impressive but the boasting before the season even got started just set them up for a fall and was totally unrealistic.

    • Mike (@mike) said on 8th December 2011, 13:49

      I liked the way (insert team here apart from Red Bull) talked up their chances of (achieving significant goal they didn’t make).

      Don’t be daft PM. You spent all year calling them Team Fernandes, You criticize them at every chance.

      Ferrari said they would win the championship this year. Did they?

      Of the new teams Lotus has easily been the most impressive. At least show them respect for that.

      • vickyy (@vickyy) said on 8th December 2011, 14:20

        I reckon they did a fantastic job keeping in mind how competitive the field is and they surely deserve pat on the back and as you called respect.
        But again as @Prisoner-Monkeys and @Cyclops_PL said, they only make more difficult for themselves with their approach towards PR, they really need to hold their horses while pre-claiming certain things when they have a long shot to achieve that.
        Just take a routine example, a student failed in Maths test, next time he claims he is going to get 90% but ends up getting 60%. Without claiming he would have sound winner of the day, which in fact he is, but that achievement lost its shine because he proclaimed something else.
        In the end, only they (I still remember that Vergne-no-worse-Webber statement) make fool of themselves in public eye.

      • sbl on tour (@sbl-on-tour) said on 10th December 2011, 8:55

        comeon now, thats only cos the other two were …….

    • Fixy (@fixy) said on 8th December 2011, 18:38

      In a way it is nice to see them celebrating for doing the best they did. In a way it is sad they couldn’t do more.

    • Huron (@huron) said on 8th December 2011, 23:04

      They never claimed that they would score fifty points and you know it. All they claimed was they might score a few points, which was hardly an unreasonable prediction.

      Considering TF’s successful business history, especially compared to VJ, it is boggles my mind how you can criticize him and yet praise VJ…but one can suspect the real reason.

      • Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 10th December 2011, 19:49

        Team Lotus COO Keith Saunt prefers to set the target in figures. “A lot of people might say I’m too optimistic, but I’d like to think we’ll get between 40 and 50 points this year. I think we’re targeting eighth strategically, but I doubt there’ll be a lot between sixth, seventh and eighth. Depending on how the other guys are doing, seventh could be achievable.” January 31st 2011. Literally none of these goals was achievable, even the miserable season of Williams didn’t help.

        • And as you see your self That was not Fernande’s who said that and if you find his quote(that exist) you will see that he said he hoped they will be getting a few points after the second half of the season.
          Keith Saunt simply said his personal opinion and not what most people in the team expected or the teams expectation was. It’s obvious by the act that he also admits as him personally being overoptimistic.

  2. Silverkeg (@silverkeg) said on 8th December 2011, 11:22

    I honestly do not believe we could have expected much more from Lotus this year. They made a dramatic improvement from last year and had a large gap over both Virgin and HRT.
    Although they weren’t able to snatch any points and were not competitve with the midfield, there progress and development was strong.
    I thing people sometimes forget just how hard it is to be even competitve in F1 these days when they go criticising them for there lack of pace.

    • it shows what an amazing job JYS did with him team 10 years ago. Podiums, pole and a win in 3 seasons. mega!

  3. marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 8th December 2011, 11:51

    It’d be interesting to see how far behind the P18 guy they were on average.

    I think had they had KERS, this season would have been a lot better for them. As it stands, considering the Renault Engine, RBR Gearbox, etc they should have been much further ahead of Virgin/HRT imho.

  4. silencer (@silencer) said on 8th December 2011, 11:52

    like or hate them; they’ve done a good job this year although didn’t meet any target they’ve set this year but they deserve to walk away with column 1 prize money at the end of the season.

  5. Dev (@dev) said on 8th December 2011, 13:41

    Team Fernandes did a okay job, they did all the right things by taking few parts from RBR & going for Renault engine. They took on board Mark Smith & few other guys from Force India by doubling their pay… also hired good folks from other competitive teams in right places…. except not choosing to run KERS they did most of the things right. Tony was right in hoping for points after making these investments… what went wrong must be analysed it’s as much important to get fresh talent from outside as it is to let go of non performers from your team to get the desired result…. They can clearly show that by letting go of Trulli & probably demoting the aero guy who worked on this project…. or jus change the manager at the top…

    I hope Team Fernandes scores few points in 2012, if they don’t then they seriously need to fire few people.

    • Mike (@mike) said on 8th December 2011, 13:55

      if they don’t then they seriously need to fire few people.

      I don’t agree. The only yardstick we have to measure TEAM LOTUS by, is the other new teams. I think they have done sufficiently well to keep their jobs.

      I think, you are expecting too much from a completely new team, Putting KERS in this year would have required significant resources and compromised their efforts in other areas.

      • Dev (@dev) said on 8th December 2011, 14:06

        other new teams have not invested as much money as Tony, from getting the best engine & gearbox combination to hiring talents from other teams at various positions. they were clearly running the team like a midfield team with right things in right places… most of their staff were having prior solid experience… drivers too look very solid….. you can’t compare them with Virgin CFD experiment & HRT’s lack of funds & human resource… Tony gave their technical team all things possible minus KERS… but if with KERS & other new staff they can’t score decent points, then something is wrong somewhere… they should be able to compete with Force India, Williams, Sauber & STR given their technical team, drivers & budget. but if they don’t then someone has to take the blame…. btw i don’t know why they won’t replace Trulli?

        • TheBrav3 said on 8th December 2011, 16:09

          The Best engine is mercedes it scored more points and did more km+laps during the season

          • Dev (@dev) said on 8th December 2011, 17:01

            that’s one way to look at it… but the other way is that RBR using the same engine & gearbox as team Fernandes secured both championships back to back & came runner up in 2009.

          • nefor (@nefor) said on 9th December 2011, 2:06

            @dev

            Regarding the engine argument, I’m pretty sure it’s accepted fact that the Mercedes engine package is stronger.

            The Red Bull is well known to have the best Aero package in F1. As has been shown numerous times they are very quick on tracks that are traditionally engine tracks (Monza) even when they don’t gear the car for top speed as they did with Sebastian. They’re just SO quick in the corners that their supposed ‘weak’ tracks are no longer a real problem for them. That’s what won them their Championships. Infact if anything without the unreliability of last year they would have sewn it up much faster.

            Additionally the Mercedes KERS is well known to be extremely strong, the Red Bull one has taken them a while to develop yet they didn’t even need it at the start of the year.

          • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th December 2011, 21:21

            @nefor As you said, the RB7 had the best aero package. I believe the Renault engine lends itself well to accompanying a tighter aero profile as it is one of the smaller engines in Formula 1 as far as actual size goes. It really just goes to show how much foresight these brilliant aerodynamicists have.

      • lopes (@lopes) said on 8th December 2011, 22:24

        Well, I’d say that they’re now one of the newER teams, but I wouldn’t call them new anymore.

        Given their investment in equipment and personnel, anything else than fighting in the midfield in 2112 would be an underachievement for Caterham, IMO.

        • lopes (@lopes) said on 8th December 2011, 22:26

          Well, I obviously meant 2012…

          Although after my typing mistake, I can’t help but think about Rush, now.

        • Silverkeg (@silverkeg) said on 9th December 2011, 2:31

          @lopes I don’t understand why people don’t like calling them the new teams…how is 2 years old not new.

          The fact is they had to start from complete scratch and what they achieved this year is I consider very good. I expect them to be in the battle with the lower midfield next year but wouldn’t consider it an underachievement if they were only just off the pace.

          The amount of work and the difficulty of even being competitive in the midfield in formula 1 I feel is underestimated and far too often people overlook the achievement of Lotus…Remember, the other midfield teams aren’t standing still.

          • lopes (@lopes) said on 9th December 2011, 14:20

            @Silverkeg , I agree with you that their achievement this year was good, I wasn’t saying it was bad. My point was that they invested a lot in personnel and equipment, and I assume they’re doing the same in development efforts, so I expect them to move the fight up the field.

            They may be a new team, but the people there is hardly inexperienced. IMO, the organization’s age has little to do with their performance. I remember when Toyota first joined F1 as a team, they built everything from scratch, poured in lots of money and debuted as a midfield team. People were disappointed with it at the time, as they were expecting the team to be closer to the leaders in pace.

            If we created a team tomorrow and hired Adrian Newey, Seb Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Ross Brawn and poured in a ton of money, I would be really disappointed to be behind the more experienced HRT team.

  6. Todfod (@todfod) said on 8th December 2011, 16:04

    Petrov finishing behind a Lotus… Ugh. How can Renault even consider this guy for a race seat?

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th December 2011, 22:15

      Petrov finishing behind a Lotus… Ugh. How can Renault even consider this guy for a race seat?

      I would say, rephrase that to “how can Renault have tolerated this shadow of their former glory to still be called Renault with their horribly underdevelopped car”

      The simple fact that about 80% of their points were scored in the first couple of races show how far they fell back from a lack of development. That is not about the drivers.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 9th December 2011, 0:30

        @todfod@bascb is correct. Singapore was an embarrassment, but it was clearly a probelm with the car. Look at Renault’s results in Italy, Singapore and Japan:

        In Italy, Petrov was comfortably inside the top ten and Senna himself was 10th. Petrov was taken out by a rogue HRT at the first corner, but Senna went on to score two points.

        Two weeks later in Singapore, Senna and Petrov qualified fifteenth and eighteenth respectively, and finished the race in fifteenth and seventeeth.

        Jump forward another two weeks to Japan, and both Renault qualified inside the top ten again, with Petrov scoring points.

        Looking at the results like this, it’s pretty obvious that Renault’s problems in Singapore were Renault’s problems. Not Petrov’s. The team admitted as much. The R31 was probably the worst car to have in Singapore, and you can hardly blame Petrov for that and claim he doesn’t deserve a drive in 2012. Especially considering that his points in the back half of the season secured fifth place in the WCC; if Petrov had driven like Senna, Renault would have lost fifth to Force India.

        • Todfod (@todfod) said on 9th December 2011, 6:14

          Senna joined them mid season this year. Petrov has been there since the beginning of testing last year. You can hardly compare both their performances with the amount of time they have had in the car

  7. Rob Wilson (@rob-wilson) said on 8th December 2011, 16:15

    I really hope we don’t get the same gap between the midfield teams and the bottom 3 next year and i trust that Tony Fernandes won’t let that happen.

    I can’t see Caterham being quicker than say Toro Rosso, Williams or Sauber next season, but it would be very disappointing if they produced a car that was still 2 or 3 seconds off those teams come Melbourne. They have got to be in the mix fighting with those cars rather than being in a no mans land of faster than HRT and Virgin but too slow for the pack in front, they have the money to develop the car throughout the season as well next year to keep up. No more excuses, it’s time for Caterham to join the midfield scrap in 2012.

  8. Raveendhana (@raveendhana) said on 8th December 2011, 18:04

    Tony has to be realistic about his goals so that they can achieve their goals, they need to do what FI did get the best out off what they have, they need to know where they are going so that they do go overboard say things they cant achieve next season.

  9. I for one will never trust that TF say. He is an opportunist and he will say whatever he need to say just to gain a few bucks here and there.

    to be honest, I dont really have much expectation from a jack of all trade. Airasia, QPR, Caterham and F1 all at the same time?

  10. Raveendhana (@raveendhana) said on 8th December 2011, 18:44

    Tony is saying so much that i think he is underestimating other midfield teams, such as sauber str and FI. he has to realise its not easy.

  11. What TF said about Team Lotus getting some points this season was nothing more then a PR release to try and win some more sponsors. They knew that they couldnt run the car in a glory run in the last test sessions, so they did the verbal equivalent. I doubt TF ever believed his team would earn many, if any, points.

    That said, the last 7/8 races for them was impressive for a race-pace perspective. The did close a gap to the midfield and widen it from HRT/Virgin, which is good for them and hopefully they make a car that is with everyone else on pace and make qualy Q1 a lot more entertaining.

    Another years data, no EBD and a car with KERs should drag the field back a little towards them. I do fear however that the car will be closer to the field in the opening races and might fall behind a bit come the European races when everyones updates come. If they can keep the development pace, and they seem to have the finances to help, it might make the midfield more interesting then it was already… and it was very interesting this year!

  12. It is somewhat bemusing to read how people count Williams as one of the back-markers. I must admit though, that their slump has really lasted now longer than 7-8 years and it it about time they got their act together. Williams have steadily lost a lot of talent, both drivers and otherwise, and have bled in terms of sponsorship money for a long time. I do not realistically know how long before Williams well and truly hit the back of the lot.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th December 2011, 22:24

      I think they did this year.

      I can’t imagine things will get any worse. With plans to their technical staff and hopefully a more conservative approach to car design they will hopefully unlock something good and get back fighting again. I don’t expect we will see them near the front any time soon but they clearly have the facilities, just now the know-how at the moment.

  13. sumedh said on 9th December 2011, 10:59

    How could a Lotus review be complete without Trulli’s power steering moans.

    But honestly, Caterham should rid themselves of Jarno. He is no longer good.

  14. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th December 2011, 22:20

    Ignoring the ridiculous targets Fernandes set the team, they’ve had a positive season. I never for a second thought they could really challenge the more established teams.

    The step forward they have made has been good and largely consistent. To finish on the lead lap is an achievement and I was happy for them. It’s a shame they weren’t challenged more and I fear that could be the case again next season. Williams surely won’t have another season as bad as the one just gone and I doubt that Virgin’s new approach will yield any thing that Lotus need to worry about.

    Kovalainen has been a pleasure to watch this year. Convincingly ruling the roost down at the bottom with no hint of him slowing down.

    I think of all the drivers I would miss Trulli the least. I’m not convinced that had Virgin and HRT been in more equal machinery he would still be hanging on to his seat. The power steering issue escapes me, I don’t understand just how broken it can be!

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