F1 2014 Preview: Lotus’ struggles continue

Pound for pound, no team was better than the small Enstone squad last season. Having pulled Kimi Raikkonen out of retirement, put in the effort to transform Romain Grosjean into a driver who could drive with the best and built a superb team on a relatively small budget, the team was looking like a championship contender..

Amid the podiums and win last year, troublesome news did surface about the team: funds were so low that they were unable to pay Raikkonen. Proposed deals with the Quantum Motorsport consortium seemed to provide hope that the team would be able to pull itself together. Nothing came of it, and as a result the team lost many key personnel such as aerodynamicist James Allison, team principle Eric Boullier. Lotus is in for some chop.

The Car

Lotus E22 has a bold and daring design that could be incredible... If it didn't have such a poor engine.

Lotus E22 has a bold and daring design that could be incredible… If it didn’t have such a poor engine.

Easily the most innovative in nosecone design, the Lotus E22 features a “double-tusk” that has reportedly produced astonishing numbers in the wind-tunnel. The unique shape seems to serve two purposes: large wind vanes and an air channel that redirects air to the floor tray and side pods. The right “tusk” is longer than the left to meet nosecone regulations, and may carry the additional benefit of additional over-steer through left turns.

The side pods themselves err on the wide side in an effort to provide better cooling to the turbo-charged V6. By the looks of things it was a good call, or as close to good as they have gotten provided the team is running with Renault power.

However brilliant and clever Lotus might have been with their aerodynamics, the effort may be wasted on an unreliable engine that they almost didn’t get. At the start of last year, Renault declared that they were planning to reduce their customer list to three teams, and Lotus wasn’t one of them. The team would convince the French automaker to change their mind. They would have been better finding business elsewhere.

Having missed the first test to complete their car, Lotus ran a successful 100km test before heading off to Bahrain. Though they quickly improved reliability between the first and second week, they still finished with two very undesirable figures: fewest laps and slowest times.

Romain Grosjean – First win overdue

Many were expecting Grosjean to win his first race this year, but it isn't looking likely.

Many were expecting Grosjean to win his first race this year, but it isn’t looking likely.

Grosjean’s rate of improvement over the past two years has been absolutely astonishing. Through 2012 he was known for being very quick. Perhaps even too quick: Grosjean was at the center of a few high-profile accidents, one of which earned him a one-race ban. Several podiums were enough to earn him another chance.

At the start of last season, he started off notably different. His furious speed had been usurped by a more cautious driving style. The German GP saw his old speed return without the penchant for collisions, as he led Raikkonen and was hot on the heels of Sebastian Vettel for much of the race. An ill-timed safety car might have cost him his first win.

The second half of the season saw this form continue to improve, with Grosjean frequently edging Raikkonen and earning enough points/podiums that, over the last 9 races, he scored more points than anyone but Vettel. He nearly tasted victory again at Japan, where he led much of the race before falling victim to the immaculate combination of Vettel and the RB9.

With Grosjean being the only driver capable of mixing with the Red Bulls at the end of last season, it’s difficult not to feel a bit bad for him.

Pastor Maldonado – Oops

Pastor left Williams for Lotus because Williams was slow and Lotus was fast. Now the opposite is true.

Pastor left Williams for Lotus because Williams was slow and Lotus was fast. Now the opposite is true.

While Grosjean’s situation is a little sad, it could be said that Maldonado’s is quite funny. After throwing a temper-tantrum at Williams and declaring himself too good for the team, he took his £30 million (≈$45 million US) PDVSA sponsorship with him to go seat-shopping. For a time, it looked like Maldonado was going to be without a seat. He had set his sights on Lotus, but they wanted Nico Hulkenberg. Unable to afford Hulkenberg, the team accepted Pastor. Not it’s not looking like the step up he was hoping for.

While Pastor is the wealthiest of all pay drivers by far, he does boast something that Chilton and Gutierrez don’t: speed. While his consistency is unbelievably erratic, he still might be able to produce a strong result every now and then for Lotus.

Unfortunately, he has a temper that might surface before he gets any such chance; that very same temper which led him to shut down at Williams and resulted in numerous collisions could surface before the engine is sorted.

It’s worth reminding that Pastor holds the record for most penalties accrued in a single season, earning him the nickname “Crashtor”. Even though he managed to win a race in 2012, most still know him best for driving like a twit.

Vowing that he would never change his driving, Maldonado may prove a liability to a team that is already down on its luck.

Preseason Figures
Jerez Total Laps:
N/A
Best Times: N/A

Bahrain Figures (Test 1 &2 Combined)
Total laps:
238 (11th)
Grosjean: 91 Laps
Maldonado: 147 Laps
Best Times
Grosjean: 1’39.302 (22nd)
Perez: 1’38.707 (21st)

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