Gerard Lopez must be a worried man
If you thought Red Bull was in trouble after its disastrous showing in the opening pre-season test of the season in Jerez, then spare a thought for Lotus.
The Enstone team was forced to sit out and watch with interest as many of its rivals, barring Red Bull, racked up important miles testing their new power plants for the first time in anger.
Lotus’ decision not to run in Jerez was due to a combination of many factors, a couple of which were thought to be budgetary factors and shoring up its 2014 entry.
According to the team’s technical director Nick Chester, as quoted by ESPN F1, the reason for missing the test was simply because the car was not ready to run and had also not passed all of the mandatory crash tests:
We're going to keep our car under wraps a little longer than some other teams. We've decided that attending the Jerez test isn't ideal for our build and development programme. We are likely to unveil the car before attending the Bahrain tests, and in Bahrain we should really be able to put the car through its paces in representative conditions.
We've made very good progress with the various homologation tests which took place before Christmas including chassis squeeze and side impact loading tests as well as the rear crash structure, meaning we just have the nose test to complete the car's homologation.
So how big a blow for the team’s preparations could missing the opening test in Jerez turn out to be?
How much damage has missing the Jerez test done to Lotus?
The trials and tribulations of Red Bull and Renault in particular proved what many had feared before the test began—that adapting to the new 2014 regulations is a massive challenge.
It wasn’t only Red Bull who experienced issues with the new turbocharger and ERS unit, which require huge amounts of cooling. Many other cars coughed and spluttered around Jerez before grinding to an untimely halt.
But it will be the woes of Renault that will worry Gerard Lopez the most, the team’s engine supplier managing the least mileage of all as Caterham and Toro Rosso struggled with similar issues.
Before the opening test of the season, McLaren sporting director Sam Michael told Autosport that missing the opening test of the season was not an option:
I'm not sure what advantage you would get from missing it [the first test]. If you push back a test, you normally do it for more wind tunnel testing—you don't do it for reliability. Of course you could do three weeks more work on front wings and diffusers, but you will bring an update package for the first race anyway so there is no advantage. I personally think you don't want to miss those tests. You want to be out there all the time.
Missing the opening test of the season is not Lotus’ only problem ahead of what promises to be make or break for the team.
It was announced on the opening day of the Jerez test that team boss Eric Boullier had left the team to take on the same role at McLaren. This, allied with the defections of both technical director James Allison and star driver Kimi Raikkonen to Ferrari, means that Lotus is in a weaker position than ever before entering a new season.
Then there’s the curious issue of whether or not the bizarre twin-tusk nose on the Lotus E22 is legal or not, although Chester insists the FIA is happy with the design, as quoted by Autosport:
As you know we have passed all the necessary crash tests and we are very confident that our design complies with all the FIA legal requirements. We have just taken an innovative direction, and one that's different to the other teams. Where there are so many variations in design, there is always bound to be a little talk, but we remain relaxed and focussed on our design and progression.
We're very happy with the direction we have taken and it will be very interesting to see how the cars perform once we get a proper chance to compare them on track. The car's coming together pretty well now. The build is well advanced and we think we'll be in good shape for Bahrain come the next test.
With the Bahrain test now only two weeks away, we will soon know exactly how damaging an effect missing the first test will have. Much will also depend on the work that Renault has put into rectifying the issues of Jerez.