Posts Tagged ‘Lotus’

When last we met, there was talk of how best to thoroughly louse up a season preview. For those of you who find yourselves too bone-idle to scroll down and read the last entry, a reminder: I, combining my extensive knowledge with my God-given knack for making predictions which diametrically oppose what subsequently goes on to happen, selected a top 10 for this year’s F1 world championship, taking the time not only to justify those picks but, in a new and exciting twist, explain why I might turn out to be wrong.

As the teams head off for their summer shutdown, some 34 laps into the second half of the season, let’s take a few moments to review whether I’ve been successful this year or whether I’ve instead managed to maintain my usual standards of foresight. Spoiler alert: it’s probably the latter.

This time we’ll be summarising the fortunes not only of those I selected in pre-season but of those who had the temerity to arrive unbidden. I’ll italicise those drivers who are so far performing in line with my predictions, partly so they’re easier to spot and partly in lieu of the lap of honour I’d normally embark upon in cases of unexpected success.

10: Pre-season pick – Fernando Alonso (McLaren Honda, currently 15th)
      Real-world interloper – Romain Grosjean (Lotus Mercedes)

If your powerplant is capable only of going nowhere fast or going nowhere at all, not even the best driver in the sport can help you.

Honda’s ongoing struggles are a waste of two talented drivers and a McLaren that appears to be a reasonable weapon when presented with a series of corners, possessing point-scoring pace at Hungaroring (the slowest permanent track on the calendar) and Monte Carlo (the slowest street circuit). Alonso’s Q1 run at Silverstone was both his and McLaren’s season in microcosm: 6 tenths down on a Ferrari along the straights of sector 1, a further 6 tenths down in sector 3, home of the Hangar Straight, but only 2 tenths away through the middle sector of the lap – through Luffield, where mechanical grip and traction are tested; then through Copse; through Maggotts; through Becketts, the kind of almost-but-not-quite-flat-out high-speed blasts that highlight the differences between a great racing driver and a Fernando Alonso.

The Honda may go on to be a potent weapon – it can’t be any less potent than the engine that earned both Alonso and Jenson Button a 25-place grid penalty in Austria – but the Spaniard is presently hamstrung by a power unit that, it seems, went racing a year too early. Give the man the tools and Alonso remains without peer.

Down Enstone way, Romain Grosjean’s chief handicap is a team lacking the funds to properly develop a reasonable car. While it’s not difficult to look calm and measured in comparison with Pastor Maldonado, the patron saint of drive-through penalties, the Grosjean of 2015 is a much more rounded, mature racing driver than the “turn one nutcase” Mark Webber so pointedly shot down not 3 years ago. The fundamental speed has never been in doubt and remains present, allied now to enhanced racecraft and the ability to better understand which causes should be fought on-track and which should be conceded.

Aside from his collision with the lapped Will Stevens in Montreal, when he seemed simply to forget that the Manor Marussia was still there, Grosjean has kept his nose clean, taken what this year’s improved chassis and aero package are willing to give him and converted that performance into solid points at every opportunity.

9. Pre-season pick – Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes)

Force India’s post-Monaco step turned out, for reasons financial, to be a post-Spielberg step, one which coincided with Hulkenberg’s victorious return from Le Mans. Nico, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy’s win for Porsche at La Sarthe gave a clear shot in the arm to a driver whose abundant gifts had briefly threatened to wilt under the weight of another year in mid-table.

After a relatively tardy opening to the campaign, The Hulk came alive in Austria, qualifying 5th and finishing 6th in what was still a bare-bones evolution of last year’s Force India, a result which he followed up with further points at Silverstone when the new VJM08B made its debut. That Austrian qualifying effort has been exception rather than rule, with it being hard to escape the feeling that Nico leaves himself a little more to do than he ought to come Sunday afternoon, but what’s been particularly evident of late has been his haste in making up for that, running 5th in the early going having started 9th at Silverstone and 5th from 11th at Hungaroring.

The team think a podium was on at the latter event had an errant front wing not forced a spectacular retirement and while it’s difficult to agree with them, I have no problem seeing why paddock rumour links their driver with a return to Williams for 2016.

8. Pre-season pick – Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull Renault)

While it’s difficult to argue that Daniil’s 2015 to date has been anything other than a little underwhelming, the reasons for that have less to do with the young Russian than with the situation in which he finds himself.

Promoted prematurely into a team whose disharmonious relationship with its engine supplier has threatened to derail the entire year, Kvyat’s year has been spent chasing after a car/engine package that can’t give him as much grip as he desires without leaving him a sitting duck in a straight line. Red Bull’s RB11 is a more highly-strung piece of equipment than its immediate predecessor but where Red Bull have been able to set up their car for optimum performance (Monte Carlo, Hungaroring), Kvyat has scored handsomely, keeping his nose just about clean enough for long enough to take his maiden podium in Hungary even if he lacked a little pace relative to Daniel Ricciardo. Where the set-up has been compromised to compensate for the obvious deficiencies of the Renault V6 (absolutely everywhere else), the other Red Bull has tended to be a little way ahead, its driver coping that bit better with a car being purposefully moved away from a sweet spot that the team haven’t always been able to find to start with.

All exactly as you’d expect, in other words, from someone whose details sit in the file marked “Quick But Inexperienced” – remember, Kvyat only recently turned 21.

7. Pre-season pick – Felipe Massa (Williams Mercedes, currently 6th)
    Real-world case of overoptimism – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Renault, pre-season prediction 4th)

Felipe, you remarkable man, I am yet again quite wrong about you.

Back in March, writing my pre-season piece, I believed that Williams were best of the rest behind Mercedes and that Massa, better in 2014 than at any time since his near-fatal 2009 accident but still not quite the driver he’d once been, lacked the consistency to do the car full justice. In what is assuredly the season’s 3rd-best package, Felipe has not only been metronomic on Sundays but fast enough on Saturdays to hold a 6-4 qualifying lead over the supremely rapid Valtteri Bottas. Away from the Ferrari pressure cooker and now entirely settled at Williams, Massa’s peaks are on the same level as the best of his 2008 championship near-miss and being delivered more regularly than at any time since then, free of the sense that his concentration might fail at any moment that so blighted his final years with the Scuderia.

If that’s unexpected, not just by the viewing public but by Felipe’s self-confessedly startled employers, it’s also very welcome. From spent force at Maranello to a force to be reckoned with at Grove, this most personable of drivers is making the most of an unexpected Indian summer.

Down the road in Milton Keynes, Daniel Ricciardo is making the best of an unexpected French shower. This year’s Renault power unit started life with no more power than last year’s but with a far greater fondness for ritually barbecuing itself. Just like Kvyat, Ricciardo’s only hope of competing on the straights has been to trim the car out and deprive himself of the downforce Adrian Newey’s design team are so famously adept at providing. If chasing after the scraps at the lower end of the top 10 is demoralising the habitually cheerful Daniel, you’d hardly know it. Indeed, only once has Danny Ric’s natural frustration been expressed in public, during a Canadian weekend in which he professed himself lost with a car that wouldn’t handle and an engine that wouldn’t power.

Above all else, Ricciardo remains a racer. His talent as an overtaker remains undimmed, boosted as ever by a remarkable feel for the limits of adhesion in the braking zone, and he remains like a dog with a bone when presented with the faintest sniff of victory. In the end, his bid for honours in Hungary was stymied by – whoever would have thought it? – a lack of top speed on the straights, forcing him into bridging ever more outlandish gaps under braking, but if the final desperate lunge on Rosberg was doomed to failure from the start, it’s impossible to do anything but love the man for giving it a go in the first place.

6. Pre-season pick – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, currently 3rd)
Real-world occupant – Felipe Massa (Williams Mercedes, see above)

Yeah, I know…

The case for the defence is that a few months ago, it really wasn’t clear whether Sebastian Vettel’s 2014 struggles were with his Red Bull specifically or with adapting to the absence of blown diffusers generally. The team won 3 races but each time it was the car on the other side of the garage taking the honours, Vettel enduring the first winless full season of his F1 career. Not only was Daniel Ricciardo generally quicker, he also did a better job of tyre management, traditionally one of Seb’s strongest suits. Vettel began this year with his reputation dented, driving for a team whose last genuinely quick car was produced 5 years previous and, perhaps most importantly, no longer driving for those who offered him such backing and protection in years gone by, irrespective of whether or not that protection was actually warranted.

2 races into his Ferrari career, Vettel won, not through luck or inclement weather but through great pace and – wouldn’t you just know it – terrific tyre management, letting him sneak through a door left only a little ajar by Mercedes. His entire season has been spent illustrating that while he claimed 4 world titles driving terrific cars, the bloke behind the wheel was none too shabby either. The Malaysia win was opportunistic, his recent win in Hungary absolutely dominant and that other hardy perennial, “Yeah, but he’s no good in traffic, is he?” was laid to rest once and for all by a magnificent drive through the field after technical problems ruined his qualifying in Montreal. Within 50 points of the championship lead going into the break, clearly enjoying his work and in prime position to pounce should Mercedes falter, Vettel’s reputation is as high now as at any time during his championship-winning streak.

5. Pre-season pick – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

In a race-winning car ran by a team becoming ever more aligned to Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen has only a single podium to his name.

It’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that what we’re watching is Kimi’s farewell to Ferrari and, in all likelihood, to motorsport at the highest level. Once a man whose qualifying runs could put the entire paddock on notice, Kimi returned to F1 seemingly shorn of that electric pace and is no closer to rediscovering it. The 6 tenths he’s consistently missing in comparison to team mate Vettel on a low-fuel flyer appear to be gone for good and if the reasons are a complete mystery to those watching, so they seem to be equally perplexing to Raikkonen. At times unlucky come race day, as when leaving the Melbourne pits with only 75% of his tyres safely attached and when losing a certain Hungaroring podium to mechanical trouble, Kimi is too often either the architect of his own downfall or, more concerningly, simply too slow.

He has argued that his race pace has been strong all season and that he’s suffered from being caught in traffic on Sunday afternoons, to which the obvious remedy is to start in front of the slower cars – Raikkonen has somehow contrived to miss Q3 twice already this season. At his best, Raikkonen remains a driver from the very top drawer but his best is increasingly hard to come by…

4. Pre-season pick – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Renault, currently 7th – see above)
    Real-world Flying Finn – Valtteri Bottas (Williams Mercedes)

…which isn’t something you’d say of Valtteri Bottas, 10 years Raikkonen’s junior and poised to save Ferrari’s mechanics from the trouble of having to take those Finnish flags down from the garage awnings next year.

The original prediction, of course, was for Valtteri to be a place higher, with the qualifier that he’d struggle to attain 3rd place if Ferrari or Red Bull outspent and out-developed Williams. Ferrari were faster from the outset, as it turned out, but believe they’d be faster still with Bottas at the wheel. A quick glance at the championship table doesn’t necessarily reveal why – Bottas, Raikkonen and Massa are covered by just 3 points after 10 races – but, for all that I love a good statistic, glances at the championship table don’t allow you to see a substantially quicker car getting caught behind a Williams in Bahrain and being completely unable to find a way past its steely, millimetrically-precise occupant. Nor, come to that, do they show you how Bottas claimed a podium position in Montreal by virtue of a strong start and a race spent repelling the theoretically faster man behind for as long as it took that man to lose patience and spin himself out of contention.

On both occasions, the car behind was red. They were paying attention in Maranello.

3. Pre-season pick – Valtteri Bottas (Williams Mercedes)
    Real-world humble pie baker – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

2. Pre-season pick – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

The enigmatic Rosberg has days when he simply can’t be defeated – Spain and Austria for starters – and would progress from potential threat to genuine contender if he could only have them more often.

The relationship with Lewis Hamilton that threatened to turn into open warfare during 2014 seems far better on the surface this year, to Rosberg’s ultimate disadvantage. The combination of Nico’s Spanish dominance and that remarkable Monaco win, inherited when Hamilton’s 20 second lead turned to dust in one needless pit stop behind a late-race safety car, would last year have been seen as the ideal platform from which to ramp up the mental pressure on his team mate.  This year’s model, perhaps still feeling the after-effects of the booing that stung him post-Spa 2014, has too often seemed to genuinely believe that Hamilton has his number and misjudged his one attempt to destabilise the reigning champion, complaining that Lewis had thought only of himself and not the team in China. Rosberg’s key complaint that day was that Hamilton was driving excessively slowly to preserve his tyres, thus allowing Vettel the opportunity to stay close. The watching fans, either missing the subtle nuances of Nico’s argument or else blowing a gigantic hole through it, depending upon your viewpoint, suggested that if the man ahead was going so slowly, it might have been worth trying to pass him.

Rosberg remains the second fastest Mercedes driver but without the edge, the faint air of menace he brought to last year’s title fight. To stand any chance of usurping Hamilton over the remaining 9 races, Nico needs to rediscover that air, quickly.

1. Pre-season pick – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

The fastest Mercedes driver, 2014 qualifying weakness fully addressed, driving better than at any stage of his career.

From the word go, Hamilton proclaimed himself happier with the W06 than with the title-winning W05, that happiness leading to the return of that Schumacher-esque searing speed over one lap, the speed we’d grown so used to in Hamilton’s McLaren days. Car 44 has sat on pole position 9 times in 10 races, going on to win 5 times, and only in Austria has he been soundly beaten for pace. Several wins, most notably those in Melbourne and Shanghai, came with pace to spare had it been needed, while his domination of the Monaco weekend was as crushing as his ultimate disappointment. His reaction to that weekend and his immediate return to winning ways in Canada were marks of the man’s increasing maturity, as was his willingness to take blame for a Hungarian race spent hitting everything that moved, as if he’d crashed into his bedside table upon waking up and decided to take it as a sign of something.

The lead is 21 points. But for one pit-wall gaffe, it would have been 38. Lewis believes he has more in his locker yet.

That pit-wall gaffe is something for which the neutral fan should be thankful. As a direct result of it, the summer break begins with Rosberg able to take the championship lead if he wins in Belgium and Hamilton fails to score. Substitute Vettel for Rosberg in the same situation and the top 3 drivers could head to Monza separated by less than 20 points. Imagine Vettel, already celebrating his wins in delighted Italian over the radio, going to Italy for the first time as a Ferrari driver right in the heart of the title fight, the Tifosi turning Monza into the kind of seething, foaming sporting cauldron only those of Latin blood can ever properly create, the Mercedes drivers cast into supporting roles by that most partizan of crowds…

Anything is possible. In truth, though, the Mercedes has had the legs of the Ferrari too often in 2015 for Vettel to properly sustain a title tilt, no matter how many miracles he might work between now and November. Seb’s presence guarantees that the Silver Arrows have to extend themselves come race day but the battle for ultimate honours remains between their drivers. My money remains on Hamilton.

Where’s yours?

One day, not all that far into the future, you’re likely to see a follow-up post apologising for that headline.

The usual drill applies when it comes to analysing pre-season testing. (The first person to say, “What, you’re going to ignore it and then go 2 years without writing anything?” earns themselves a round of terrifically slow applause, alright?) There are real, genuine limits to what you can learn without knowing what fuel load everyone’s carrying, whether the track was 3 degrees warmer today than yesterday, whether Williams have turned their engine up and Ferrari haven’t, whether Driver X is really pushing and so on. This blogger is, however, going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Mercedes might be quite quick. You get nowhere in this business without making the occasional shocking, left-field prediction.

Williams may or may not have turned their engine up when Susie Wolff drove the new FW37 in Barcelona last week. The general response to news of female participation in a male-dominated sport is often to assume that the driver is where she is because of her looks, her marketability or who she knows. Susie, she of the Vogue photoshoot, the articulate media-friendly nature and the well-connected husband (Mercedes F1 chief Toto), is no exception, but to assume that her Williams role owes everything to those attributes is to ignore a career spent scoring points in DTM and podium finishes in Formula Renault, beating Aston Martin factory driver Stuart Hall and Audi sportscar specialist Oliver Jarvis along the way.

Susie is, in other words, more than fast enough for a team like Williams to learn something when she drives their cars and spends time in their simulator. For Williams, a once-mighty organisation heaving itself back to the top of the pile after too long languishing in the middle of nowhere, it has to be this way. A test and development driver needs to be quick enough to fully assess a car’s performance, then concentrated and intelligent enough to give their engineer concise, accurate feedback on how it behaves.

The situation is much the same at Lotus, who followed two race-winning years with a 2014 season good for nothing, beyond reminding the team that hey, at least 2015 can’t be any worse. Armed with that knowledge, meet their new development driver, Carmen Jorda.

The initial Lotus press release described their new signing as having enjoyed “a distinguished racing career.” Last season, Carmen competed in GP3, a feeder series two rungs below F1, and finished the season 29th in the championship standings. In practice for the season’s first event in Barcelona, Jorda placed 27th out of 27, one second slower than the driver in 26th. The season’s other female competitor, Beitske Visser, finished ahead of Jorda in the championship despite only competing in the first two races. It’d be easy, of course, to blame the car, but then again a) GP3 is a one-make series, so everyone has the same equipment and b) she was replaced in the Korainen team for the final 4 races by Dean Stoneman, who took Jorda’s car to 2 front row starts and 2 race wins.

Considering these facts has forced this writer to remind himself of how the dictionary defines the word “distinguished”, having briefly considered that he must also be in the middle of a distinguished racing career and had simply failed to realise. Considering them further led him to realise that if the racing career required him to take part in this many photo shoots wearing short dresses, shorter shorts or no obvious shorts at all, perhaps his being too tall and heavy for it was for the best after all.

Reaction to the announcement, including GP2 racer Mitch Evans advising that it isn’t April 1st yet, Jorda’s former team mate Rob Cregan suggesting that she “couldn’t develop a roll of film, let alone an F1 car” and GP3 race winner Richie Stanaway cutting straight to the heart of the matter with a simple “LOL”, hasn’t quite been universally positive. The reaction emphasises the points we covered a paragraph ago, of course, but Lotus will have seen it coming. They must have done, because they’d already appointed 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer as their official test and reserve driver weeks ago.

That being so, what exactly is Carmen’s signing meant to achieve? Recent years have seen Danica Patrick win in the IndyCar Series, while Sarah Fisher scored podium finishes as a driver and a race win as a team owner. Simona de Silvestro followed up wins in Formula Atlantic with an IndyCar podium too, before her F1 aspirations were put on hold by a contract dispute with Sauber after a year occupying her own development role with the Swiss outfit. While neither Danica nor Sarah have shown any serious desire to build a career in Formula 1, Simona gave it a go on the back of a very respectable career to date and made it no further than driving a 2 year old car on a private test day.

The message sent out by a sport that turns away de Silvestro while welcoming Jorda, then, must surely be that yes, women are welcome, but only if their legs are long enough and their pout seductive enough to satisfy the sexists. Perhaps you’ve arrived here after browsing one of the many articles on the same subject, reading through the comments threads and – go on, since you’re there – adding your own tuppen’orth while you’re at it, with a mind that’s already made up and an opinion formed of the very clearest crystal. Perhaps the man writing this blog entry thought the same thing when he first heard the news. Perhaps, though…

What follows is only a thought, something to mull over, to consider. It’s widely thought that Carmen Jorda brings with her a not-inconsiderable amount of sponsorship money, which will be particularly useful to the perennially cash-strapped Lotus outfit. Money talks in a language we all understand, a language in which the bearer’s gender makes no difference. We’ve briefly spoken of Jolyon Palmer, whose career is backed by Comma, an automotive oil company. Pastor Maldonado comes to Lotus bearing gifts of his own, these ones from PDVSA, the Venezuelan government-backed oil and gas company.

Simona de Silvestro had no money to bring to a Sauber team fighting to stay afloat. Adrian Sutil had a 2015 race deal in his pocket with the same team but was cast unceremoniously aside when Felipe Nasr produced USD $15 million of Banco do Brasil cash. Marcus Ericsson took the second Sauber seat with sponsorship deals thought to be of a similar value. While Kamui Kobayashi returns to Japan to race domestically, having failed to nail down an F1 drive despite being blessed with speed and the belief that every corner in the world represents an overtaking opportunity if you’re rude enough, Manor Marussia are preparing to feel the benefit of Will Stevens’ personal backers, as Caterham did during their farewell appearance in Abu Dhabi last year.

Formula 1 is increasingly the preserve of those with the manufacturer backing or the personal funding to support its ever-increasing costs. Those costs, those increasingly unsustainable costs of competing in a sport too racked with individual self-interests to ever consider its collective future health (another rant, for another time), apply to all, whether male, female, black, white, yellow. Carmen Jorda’s arrival in F1 is igniting a debate, as it should, but in a sport where drivers of both genders are increasingly being assessed on the same wallet-heavy criteria, the debate being had is the wrong one. Increasingly, it seems that male and female competitors are equal in the way that matters most to the teams in the lower reaches of F1, those outfits who act as an entry point for emerging talent. No matter who you are or how you look, if your bank balance ain’t large enough, you ain’t getting in.

Sorry about the dust.  I’ll tidy up in a bit, I promise.

I’ve been moved to write to you all again by Romain Grosjean’s ban, incurred for causing an avoidable, spectacular and potentially lethal shunt during the field’s first trip through La Source in yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

I’m not against the ban.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The message needs to be given, not just to Grosjean but to those climbing the ladder, that motor sport is dangerous and that drivers should appear at least a tiny bit aware of that danger.  Anyone who wishes to question the wisdom of that idea would do well to watch a recording of a GP3 or Formula 3 race and then, once you’ve managed to prise your fingers away from your eyes and convince yourself everything’s going to be fine, come back and let me know what you thought of it.  The example set by such leading lights as Senna, Schumacher and latterly Vettel has led those climbing the ladder to lose sight of what constitutes dangerous driving, not just at the start of races but throughout their distance; anything that brings that back into focus is worth applauding.

The team aren’t against the ban either, at least not publicly.  Here’s an excerpt from an FIA statement:

“The stewards regard this incident as an extremely serious breach of the regulations which had the potential to cause injury to others.  It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race. 

“The stewards note the team conceded the action of the driver was an extremely serious mistake and an error of judgement. Neither the team nor the driver made any submission in mitigation of penalty.”

Fair enough.

Hang on, though.  It eliminated leading championship contenders from the race.”  This is undeniably true – it removed Lewis Hamilton from contention and came within an ace of removing Fernando Alonso’s head from his shoulders – but unless you’re wanting people like me to infer that Grosjean wouldn’t have been penalised had he hit Petrov and Karthikeyan in the same petrifying fashion, it’s absolutely not the kind of thing you should be putting in an official statement.

You might also be tempted to wonder why, if Romain Grosjean causing an accident merits a ban, Pastor Maldonado deliberately using his car as a weapon on two separate occasions doesn’t.  The stewards change from event to event, as does the driver appointed to assist them in their decision making.  Nigel Mansell was the driver for both of Maldonado’s efforts while Eliseo Salazar made his stewarding debut this weekend, so the inconsistency must stem from Mansell and Salazar having slightly different views on what it’s like to be attacked by another racing driver.

Yes, I’m going to link to it.  Of course I’m going to link to it.

Before we get going, the Bahrain issue.  Having had a think about it, I’ve decided I don’t really want to dedicate a big chunk of time to writing about such an emotive issue, only to then be ripped to shreds by someone who couldn’t be bothered to read my words properly (hello, Martha. I trust you’re keeping well).  Life’s too short.  I’ll just say this instead: Damon Hill is a very intelligent, thoughtful man who has, in the end, arrived in somewhere approaching the right place.

Now, Lotus. You might recall that last year there were two teams laying claim to the Lotus name.  The good news for those who don’t recall, along with those who are only here because I made them visit and have exactly no idea of what I’m on about, is that I wrote about this last February.  To save you searching through the archives, just click here if you fancy a recap.  Give me a ring and I’ll come round and work the mouse for you as well.

The condensed milk version goes like this.  There was Team Lotus, whose cars were painted in green and yellow, were called Lotus and had a Renault engine in the back, but didn’t have the word Lotus written anywhere on them.  There was also Lotus Renault GP, whose black and gold cars were called Renault, had a Renault engine in the back but had Lotus written on them in big letters.

In times of old, there was the Team Lotus racing division and the Lotus Engineering road car division, later to become Group Lotus, both owned and ran by Colin Chapman.  In the years around and after Colin’s premature passing in 1982, the two divisions were acquired by different owners.  Without bogging ourselves down in the various things that happened in between (the link above does that if you’re interested), last year’s situation arose because Team Lotus had acquired the rights to use that name while Renault had agreed a title sponsorship deal with Group Lotus, leading to two separate factions bidding for the right to use the same brand in the same arena.  Matters were settled through the courts, Group Lotus came out on top and for 2012, the green and yellow car became known as a Caterham.  The black and gold car was a Lotus, there was to be no more confusion and, crucially, nobody was ever going to ask me to explain which one was which again.

Fast forward to April 2012 and now the Lotus isn’t a Lotus anymore either, except that it is.

Group Lotus, you see, are having all kinds of financial problems.  For some time they’ve been a massive drain on the resources of their owners, the Malaysian car company Proton.  There are reports that the banks who have lending agreements with the group have stopped providing money since the turn of the year, citing the group’s failure to meet certain commitments made as part of those agreements.  This, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to keep on providing sponsorship money to a Formula 1 team, though that’s of secondary importance to the main event, which involves Group Lotus having a very large amount of debt (assuming, of course, that £250 million sounds like a large number to you) and a very small number of people buying their cars.

The upshot is that the Lotus F1 team are no longer connected to Group Lotus in any way.  The group no longer has an option to buy into the F1 team and their title sponsorship deal has been annulled.  However, the F1 team’s owners Genii Capital might still have some interest in buying the group from Proton over the coming months, so maintaining some kind of tenuous link to them is in their interests.  Added to that, it’s a pretty major effort to have a team name changed at the best of times, especially when a season has already started and especially when such a simple act can cost you millions of pounds in constructors prize money.  As a result, the racing team that isn’t connected to Group Lotus, Team Lotus or even the Lotus Express Chinese takeaway on Stockton Road is still known as…?

Yes.  It.  Is.

Jimmy

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Formula 1
Tags: , , , , ,

43 years ago today:

It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The one above tells you more about the driver involved than anything I could possibly commit to the page, but I’d like you to consider the following few sentences anyway.

In 1963, whenever the Lotus 25 made it to the end of a Grand Prix in one piece, Jim Clark won.  Under the scoring system that year, drivers counted their best 6 results from 10 races.  Clark won 7 times.   With 6 wins from 10 in 1965 under the same scoring rules, his pair of world championships could not have been achieved with greater dominance.

The Lotus cars of 1964 and 1967 broke too often to bring Jim further world crowns, including the heartbreak of a last lap engine failure while leading the ’64 title decider in Mexico.  Whenever the car remained mechanically sound, though, the Scotsman won.  During the same period, he took to NASCAR, rallying, sportscars, touring cars and IndyCar racing with the exact same ease as an F1 machine, genuinely unable to grasp how or why he ended up in a class of his own.  When Clark’s Lotus 48 left the Hockenheim circuit on a grey spring afternoon in 1968, the world lost one of the finest natural talents ever to take the wheel of a racing car.

As a society, we’re too quick to throw around words like ‘brilliant’, ‘genius’ and ‘legendary’.  For this quiet farmer from the Borders, the word ‘legend’ is nothing like powerful enough.

A few quick bits to pick up on before we go racing, boys and girls.

Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher are the winners of this season’s Start As You Mean To Go On prize, having being warned about their future conduct after qualifying.  Rosberg was adjudged to have blocked Sergio Perez during Qualifying 2, with Hamilton holding up Vitaly Petrov during the same session.  Schumacher’s blocking offence took place in Q1 when, in the opinion of the stewards, he delayed the Renault of Nick Heidfeld.  Additional penalties, including a demotion on the starting grid, could have been applied but the stewards, guided this weekend by Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert, found that no further action was necessary.

Several teams have complained that the cool temperatures in Melbourne this weekend, allied to the track’s relative lack of abrasion compared to other circuits on the calendar, are making it hard to get heat into tyres.  Ferrari’s driver pairing of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are convinced that in race trim and on a warmer day – Sunday is forecast to be comfortably the hottest day of this race weekend – they can give chase to the Red Bulls.  “I expect that this was not the normal pace from us, and we will get better and better tomorrow,” said the Spaniard.  Lotus, who’ve spent the entire weekend praying to all appropriate deities for a heatwave, have enlisted the help of both drivers and their team owner in delivering the same kind of message.

Why didn’t Red Bull use the Kinetic Energy Recovery System in qualifying?  The team aren’t telling.  “Everything we do has a reason behind it,” says team boss Christian Horner, refusing to elaborate further.  Both drivers have confirmed they didn’t use the special button during qualifying, which would have cost them an estimated 0.3-0.4 seconds per lap, enough to have Mark Webber ahead of Lewis Hamilton on the grid.  Those watching the first Friday practice session would have heard race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin telling Sebastian Vettel to “use KERS, urgent, use KERS,” leading some to suggest the team have fears about the reliability of their package.

Others have speculated that Red Bull are using a unique KERS package designed only for use at the start of a race, allowing them to run a smaller, lighter system than the rest of the grid.  Any truth in that, Christian?  “You’ll have to wait and see and watch the television.  I am not going to spoil the excitement…”

Finally, which Spanish driver with previous ties to the company could Vodafone Spain have had in mind when their marketing team came up with this?

Ever wondered exactly how a top-line racing driver prepares himself for the season ahead?  Some focus on the gym, others go out and about for some running and biking.  Nico Rosberg does all of these, but he also rides a unicycle while juggling tennis balls:

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These words are being written 27 hours before the first free practice session of the year gets underway in Melbourne.  For the drivers, it’s time for the first round of pre-race media interviews and public appearances.  Jenson Button has already carried out a car swap with V8 Supercars star Craig Lowndes at Bathurst, while Sebastian Vettel has sheared a sheep on behalf of Red Bull.  For the teams, today is an opportunity to have the garages prepared and organised ready for action tomorrow, making sure all the little detail upgrades the mechanics brought over as hand luggage have been accounted for.

Detail upgrades are all you’ll bring to the first fly-away events, unless you’re in major trouble and need to redesign half the car before the season has even begun.  McLaren’s MP4/26 will feature an all-new exhaust system along with a new floor, neither of which have featured on the car during pre-season testing.  The last sentence contains a fact, reported with complete neutrality as if framed by a camera filming the scene, which you’re free to interpret in any way you’d like to.

The way McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh interprets it is that, “I was not satisfied with where the car was from a reliability or performance point of view. We have made some dramatic changes to the car. There is some risk, but we hope that it pays off and the car is more competitive.  The changes are aimed at making the car over a second quicker than it was in the tests.”

As we mentioned a little while ago, one of this year’s design keys involves blowing exhaust gases onto various aerodynamic parts to generate greater downforce and grip.  McLaren’s work in this area had, we’re told, led them to come up with a complex, extreme interpretation of the concept which has now been abandoned in favour of a simpler approach.  “I think the car fundamentally isn’t a bad car.  We need to unlock the exhaust blowing potential and we had some very creative ideas, some of which could have worked spectacularly well, but in order to do that they had to be durable and raceable and frankly some of our solutions weren’t.  That’s why we had to go back and in doing so we found some interesting performance.”

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Nothing says, “What do you mean, you have shown me our entire sponsor portfolio?” more than hiring Sakon Yamamoto and his wallet as your reserve driver.  Virgin Racing are this year’s wearers of the I’m With Slowcoach t-shirt.

Elsewhere in the paddock, Team Lotus (that’s the team whose cars are called Lotus, not the one whose cars have Lotus written on them) have hired proper racing driver Karun Chandhok to be their reserve driver for 2011, presumably with a view to a race seat in 2012.  Lotus now have no fewer than 6 drivers on their books, but predictably Renault (that’s the team whose cars have Lotus written on them) have managed to top that.  The team from Enstone have announced that they’ll be calling on the services of Nicolas Prost, son of quadruple world champion Alain, to drive at PR events and filming days whenever Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov, Bruno Senna, Jan Charouz, Fairuz Fauzy, Romain Grosjean and Ho-Pin Tung are all double-booked at the same time.