How Much Did Missing the First 2014 Formula 1 Test Hurt Lotus?
Lotus raised plenty of eyebrows when they announced they would be missing the first of the three 2014 Formula One preseason tests.
To miss any testing opportunity is bad, but this year it seemed even worse. With so many changes to the technical regulations over the winter, getting maximum track time was at the top of every team's list of priorities.
Lotus knew that but didn't believe their car would be ready.
It wasn't a case of the wheels not fitting, or having a piece of cardboard stuck to the nose instead of a front wing. They could have taken a car to Jerez.
But that car wouldn't, they felt, have been worth taking. The team believed their time would be better spent remaining at the factory, further developing the E22.
No details have yet been given on what areas, specifically, they wanted to do more work on, but they will have known in advance that Renault were having difficulties marrying engine and car.
This could have been the primary reason—and also the source of then-team principal Eric Boullier's (incorrect) assertion that he knew at least one other team would also be absent from Jerez.
Four extra days back at base will have been beneficial in some way, but how much has it hurt them overall?
The only real benefit (aside from having more free time to look for amusing cat pictures to tweet) is that Lotus had a bit of extra development time.
They appear to have put that time to good use.
Lotus lost some key personnel (including team principal Eric Boullier and technical director James Allison) and rumours regarding their budget spent most of the winter steadfastly refusing to go away, but at first glance, the E22 looks the business.
The unique twin-pronged nose is the first thing anyone noticed. This design has the advantage of not having a central obstruction in the way of the airflow as it heads under the car.
One expects this addition was put into motion as soon as they saw how badly Renault teams were struggling with cooling.
And the exhaust exit is offset, pointing out to one side. While this is a nightmare for those with a love of symmetry, it allows the team to have a much tidier single (also slightly offset) rear wing support pillar.
This presents less obstruction to airflow than the double pillars used by some other teams.
It's not a groundbreaking car, but overall, it looks detailed and well thought-out.
But Drawbacks Dominate
While a few extra days of development work might have given them a tenth or three, the benefits pale to insignificance when viewed alongside the negatives of missing Jerez.
With so many changes to the regulations, track time is of critical importance. Simulations give only a rough idea and are no substitute for doing proper laps of a circuit.
Lotus arrived in Bahrain having not done a single mile of proper testing (not counting the "promotional day" they did in the space between the first and second test).
Even the other Renault teams—victims of so many problems in Jerez,—had at least taken their cars out and gotten a few laps on the board. They also got the initial teething troubles at least partly out of the way.
No such luck for Lotus. The E22 managed just eight laps on the first day, and on day two they did 18.
Day 3 saw the number increase to 26, but that's a long way shy of where they need to be. With so little running, Lotus can have only a basic understanding of their car at this stage.
They'll be using the third test to do what their rivals have been doing at the second.
And not only did missing the first test leave Lotus behind on the technical side, it also left their drivers playing catch-up.
The new cars have a lot more torque, lower downforce and enhanced energy recovery systems. It doesn't matter how good a driver is, he still has to learn how to manage the new machinery and adapt his driving style to suit.
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado didn't get an opportunity to try out the E22 until weeks after their rivals, and that will have put them at a disadvantage.
Grosjean revealed the team have completely given up on the idea of working on set-ups before the first race of the season. Speaking of the team's lack of running at the test, he told Glenn Freeman and Matt Beer of Autosport:
To be honest, there are so many things going on at the rear of the car that I can't understand everything, but it was related to the engine or batteries or things like that. Nothing too crazy.
I don't really care about set-up work, that's going to be when we are in free practice. It's just about fixing all the issues and making sure the car is in one piece when we do long runs.
For a team which finished 2013 with the second-best car, that's not a good place to be.
Making Red Bull Look Good
The size of the task facing Lotus becomes clearer when we look at how they have performed so far relative to their rivals.
It's not worth comparing them to Mercedes, Ferrari or McLaren. Even if they'd gone to Jerez, they would not have managed as much running as those teams.
The best comparison is with the other Renault teams—Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Caterham.
But even that doesn't make happy reading for the Enstone outfit.
Red Bull have done 122 laps so far this winter, Toro Rosso have done 174 and Caterham lead the Renault charge on 308.
Lotus? A grand total of 52.
With just five days left before the season kicks off in Australia, the short-term outlook for the team is bleak.