Lotus Racing had a difficult inception. Receiving their entry in September 2009, they had 5 months to design and build a Formula 1 car. Lead by Tony Fernandes, the boss of Air Asia, with the technical team headed by former Renault and Toyota Technical Director Mike Gascoyne, the team had a sound financial and technical base to start from.
Designing and building a car in around 5 months was a major achievement and the team had set the target to finish the best out of the three new teams that joined Formula 1 in 2010. The team showed their intention of competing in Formula 1 by signing proven race winners in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. The experience of the pair would be invaluable in developing the car through the season.
2010 was a difficult year for the team, the main reliability problems came in the form of hydraulics failures, with the team using Xtrac gearbox and hydraulics to go with their Cosworth engines. To ensure the team were able to make it to the grid, the car was a very conservative design. Improvements came through the season, but Lotus never had the pace to quite get onto the teams above them.
Involved in a battle with Virgin Racing, the team often came on top out of the new teams. Despite gaining no points in the season, a best finish of 12th for Kovalainen at the Japanese Grand Prix secured 10th place in the Constructors Championship ahead of Virgin Racing and the Hispania Racing Team. This allows them to secure prize money for this season which will put them on a stronger financial footing going into 2011.
For 2011, Lotus Racing becomes Team Lotus, having secured the rights to use the iconic name from David Hunt after their licensing agreement was terminated by Group Lotus mid way through the 2010 season. The legalities of this are complex, but what is important is that this team wants to push forward and work their way into the pack of established teams, regardless of what they are called.
In order to address the issues of last season and to increase the performance of the car, Team Lotus has signed a deal to use Renault engines for 2011. This will be accompanied by Red Bull Racing gearbox and hydraulic systems, ensuring that Team Lotus will be using a championship winning powertrain. To follow the packaging of the Red Bull, they will also switch to using a pullrod rear suspension layout; this would be the obvious choice considering that they are using the rear end of the Red Bull.
Team Lotus are quite bullish over their expectations for 2011. They expect to be pushing the midfield with a more aggressive car based on what they have learnt over 2010. Starting off on pace with the likes of Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber would be a huge achievement, and as the season unfolds and as their pace increases with developments, scoring points could be a realistic target.
Team Lotus must improve and reach the established teams; otherwise there would be cause for concern if they are left as far off the pace as in their first year. With a full year to develop their car and proven technology to try and prevent the reliability problems of 2010, Team Lotus has good cause for optimism.
The veteran Italian joined Lotus in 2010 to be reunited with Mike Gascoyne, who he worked with during their time together at Renault and Toyota. Jarno joining Lotus was a huge benefit to the small team as his experience and working relationship with Mike Gascoyne was beneficial in providing the team with credibility in their first year.
In a team struggling with pace with a brand new car, Trulli was unable to put his one lap pace to good use and was more often than not eliminated from Qualifying in the 1st session. Often ending up faster than the two other new teams was important for Trulli, but he was often not as fast as his team mate, who seemed to be able to be more aggressive when trying to post qualifying times.
Trulli will remain with Team Lotus in 2011, and would no doubt be buoyed by the expectations of running a car with a full year of design work behind it and with the efforts being taking to prevent the major reliability problems of 2010. Coming to the end of his career, Trulli knows that race wins are beyond him, but putting the foundations in place at Team Lotus and helping to score their first points would mark the Italians time at the team a success.
The Finn joined Lotus in 2010 after two years at McLaren where he was unable to match the speed of Lewis Hamilton. Going from a race winning car to a new team would have been a big change, but it was a situation that Heikki thrived in. Without the pressures of being in a big team, he seemed to be able to enjoy himself and enjoy his racing.
Difficulties came with the problems associated with a new team, lack of pace and a lack of reliability was the two big problems that were slowly being overcome as the season went on. In Qualifying Heikki would usually push to his maximum to try and get the better of his team mate and the other new teams. Watching him on a quick qualifying lap, it was clear he was trying to get the most out of the car.
Finishing 12th at the Japanese Grand Prix confirmed the teams 10th place in the Constructors Championship. A highlight of the season was Heikki turning fireman after his car erupted into flames during the closing stages of the Singapore Grand Prix, voted for by fans as the ‘Moment of the Year’ in an end of season poll.
Being in a more relaxed atmosphere seems to have been beneficial for Kovalainen, who seemed to enjoy being in battles with the two Virgin Racing cars. Hoping to push higher up the grid, Kovalainen will want a faster car to be able to score points and push the team into the midfield, in a team where he feels happy and at home, that will only be of benefit to Team Lotus.