When the first half of this year’s F1 season came to an end at the Hungaroring, Lotus were being tipped as one of THE teams to watch out for in the second half. Raikkonen and Grosjean had just collected their 5th and 3rd podiums of the season respectively. Lotus were sitting 3rd in the constructors championship with 192 points. They were also working on their DDRS (Double DRS) system and were expecting to integrate it into their cars in time for Spa. This combined with their already proven performance in higher downforce circuits meant that their chances of being serious competitors in the latter part of the season were good. Things were looking rosy!
However it has hardly gone to plan for the Enstone based team in the 3 races since the summer break. First, the DDRS system did not make it to the race setup, which meant that the team was severely disadvantaged at both Spa and Monza, tracks that demand better straight-line speed, especially the Italian circuit. This resulted in the team restricted to trying to get the best out of the situation rather than mounting any serious challenge for the win. Their problems were compounded with Grosjean getting a one-race ban for the accident he caused at the start of the Belgian GP.
Since then, Lotus have stated that they are hoping to get their DDRS ready in time for Suzuka.
And now most recently at Singapore, which many people thought would favour Lotus since it is a track that requires higher downforce levels, they seemed to have taken a further step back, when in qualifying they were more than a second behind the front row sitters, managing only 8th and 12th. They ultimately finished 6th and 7th in the race, but that was more due to events (Hamilton’s gearbox failure and Schumacher’s accident) transpiring in their favour.
So what went wrong? Lotus had introduced a new rear wing for Singapore, which was expected to provide an improvement in the amount of drag reduction that could be achieved, meaning better straight-line speed of the car under DRS whilst not compromising the downforce levels needed for this circuit. However in an interview with Autosport, Eric Boullier, Lotus team principal, said that they had reverted to a Hungaroring-specification of some aerodynamic parts in Singapore to try and understand whether a recent development path had sent it in the wrong direction.
Additionally it was interesting to note Kimi’s comments at the end of his qualifying session, when he mentioned that his lap times on used super-soft tires were actually faster than the times on new ones. This was not what was expected, with tyre suppliers Pirelli saying that they were expecting a 0.3 second performance drop per lap with the super-soft tires. So clearly Lotus was struggling to get the best out of its tyres.
Looking ahead to Suzuka, which requires both high speeds as well as higher than normal downforce, it is going to be crucial for Lotus to get its DDRS integrated as well as sort out the balance of the car with regards the aerodynamic issues that they faced in Singapore. With the race only 2 weeks away, it is going to take a lot of work from the team to get their drivers competing at the front again. Kimi has usually done well at Suzuka. It was the site of one of his more memorable drives with Mclaren when he came through the field from 17th to win the race in 2005. Can Lotus provide him with a car that can challenge for a win and keep his now slim hopes of a drivers championship alive ? Here’s hoping they can make it happen!