Lotus have lost their star driver, their team principal and their top designer.
Thankfully they haven’t lost their sense of humour. Lotus would be uncontested champions if awards were given for provocative and amusing tweets, but it’s probably best not to give Bernie Ecclestone any more ideas about the points system.
The issue of money hung over the team at the end of 2013 as they unsuccessfully pursued an investment deal from Quantum Motorsport. The finance issue also became a focus of its decision on who to hire as Raikkonen’s replacement.
Eventually Pastor Maldonado and his PDVSA millions got the nod over the far less well-financed but arguably more promising Nico Hulkenberg.
“It’s no secret to say that last year, while very positive on the track, was challenging off the track,” the team’s CEO Matthew Carter admitted. “This year we’re looking to be as successful away from the track as we are on it.”
However they believe they are now on a sound footing. “We have a new financial stability which will allow us to go forwards, develop the car and hopefully enable us to be challenging right at the front of the grid.”
Unfortunately 2014 began with further setbacks. Team principal Eric Boullier jumped ship to McLaren, and before doing so admitted the team’s new car wouldn’t be ready for the first test of the year in Jerez.
Boullier reckoned Lotus wouldn’t be the only team in that situation, but it proved not to be the case. The E22 was the only 2014 not to appear at the Spanish test.
That was not the setback it might have been given the extent of the difficulties Renault were having, but it has left the team playing catch-up at a time when there is precious little pre-season mileage available for F1’s radically new cars.
Lotus has a deserved reputation for punching above its weight. They won races in the last two seasons on a budget substantially smaller than that of other race-winners. It’s been a lean, efficient team since it started life as Toleman, but there’s no doubting it’s up against it this year.
Although designer James Allison has moved on, the car plans he left behind were for a particularly aggressive interpretation of the 2014 rules, particularly as concerns noses. So far Lotus are the only team to adopt the twin tusks of unequal lengths, though at least one of their rivals are rumoured to be considering the same.
The asymmetry extends to the rear of the car as well where Lotus have offset the exhaust outlet from the centre and used a single pillar, curved around it, to mount the wing – an ingenious and potentially more efficient solution than that of their rivals.
Their new driver line-up is as eye-catching as the car. Two years ago, when Romain Grosjean picked up a one-race ban for causing a pile-up at Spa and Maldonado seemed incapable of going wheel-to-wheel with a rival without causing contact, the idea of pairing them up at the same team would have been comical.
But since then Grosjean has seriously upped his game. He was the only driver to consistently get on terms with Red Bull in the latter part of 2013 with top-drawer drives in Japan, India and America.
Maldonado endured a miserable 2013 in a car which wasn’t going anywhere quickly, but for the most part he managed to stay out of trouble. He has a blazing turn of speed, particularly at tracks he likes, and should be a good match on performance for Grosjean.
But the early signs the chances to score big points will not present themselves as readily this year for Lotus as they did in the last two seasons. That will ask questions of both their drivers’ ability to bring the car home without getting caught up in the kind of needless accidents they have in the past.
Lotus’s F1 record
Over to you
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