How Lotus Recovered from Testing Nightmare to Score First Championship Points

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How Lotus Recovered from Testing Nightmare to Score First Championship Points
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Romain Grosjean finished eighth at the 2014 Formula One Spanish Grand Prix to give Lotus their first four points of the season.

At this point last year, they had 111.

It's a remarkable fall from grace for the Enstone team, but one which was not entirely unexpected.

The loss of lead driver Kimi Raikkonen (who had 85 of those 111 points) was always going to be costly, as were other key departures including technical director James Allison (May 2013), head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer (September 2013) and team principal Eric Boullier (January 2014).

Talk about the team's financial stability refused to go away throughout the winter months, and when they announced they were missing the first pre-season test because the car would not be ready, the outlook seemed even bleaker.

Andrew Hone/Getty Images

Grosjean's points finish in Spain was significant. It highlighted a substantial step forward for the team after four races in which they finished no higher than 11th.

It also drew attention to something many expert observers, including Autosport's Craig Scarborough (subscription required), noticed as soon as the car appeared at the first Bahrain testthat the E22 is, fundamentally, a very good car with a lot of potential.

Of course, until now, they haven't had a chance to show it.

The biggest problem was a lack of running. With such substantial changes to the regulationsincluding the new hybrid power units, reduced downforce levels, new nose position requirements and a new range of tyres from Pirelligetting in track time ahead of the season to understand the new car was vital.

But Lotus didn't manage much at all. Missing the first test was only the start of their issues as they struggled more than any team to integrate the problematic new Renault power train at tests two and three.

If the car wasn't stuck in the garage being worked on, it was stopping out on the track and being brought back on the rear of a flatbed lorry.

Hasan Jamali/Associated Press

At the end of the third test, they had done just 1,288 kilometres of testing, fewer than any team and a lot less than the other expected midfield runners. Williams had done 4,893 kilometres, Sauber 4,039 kilometres and Force India 3,975 kilometres.

The next few races would be spent playing catch-up.

 

A Tough Start Down Under

Australia was difficult for the team. Grosjean and team-mate Pastor Maldonado managed just 33 laps between them in the three free practice sessions as they discovered new problems to go with the old ones.

It was therefore no surprise when Maldonado failed to set a qualifying time, and Grosjean was last of the runners who did.

Rob Griffith/Associated Press

But in the race they did a little better than expected. Maldonado parked up after 29 laps, while Grosjean completed 43 laps before his car succumbed to the same MGU-K issue which forced his team-mate out.

The Frenchman was as positive as could be expected about the outing, saying in a statement on the team's website:

We've learnt a lot today and all the changes made to the car have been positive. We still have a long way to go, but at least I know more about tyre usage, all my engineers know where we need to improve with the chassis, and we've learnt a lot about aero balance and fuel consumption.

Of course there's more to do with the energy management and recovery and some work yet with the braking. We've still got lots of work to do, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

The team did little real race setup and performance work, and it showedbut at least they got in a few more valuable additional testing miles.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total
Total (Season)
Practice 16 84.8 17 90.1    
Qualifying 6 31.8 3 15.9    
Race 43 227.9 29 153.7    
Total   344.5   259.7 604.2 1,892.26

The only way was up.

 

The First Finish

The next race was two weeks later, in Malaysia. With the additional data from Australia coupled with what they had learned in the pre-season, Lotus will have been expecting a small step forward.

With one of their cars, they got it. Grosjean put in 34 practice laps and reached Q2 for the first time, doing 17 laps in the process.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

He capped a fine weekend by getting to the end, and we got a glimpse of the car's potential as it outpaced the Saubers and finished right behind the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.

Maldonado had a tougher weekend, a power unit failure knocking him out after just seven laps. But every little helps, and the team acquired yet more data about the car's strengths and weaknesses.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total Total (Season)
Practice 34 188.36 22 121.88    
Qualifying 17 94.18 8 44.32    
Race 55 304.7 7 38.78    
Total   587.24   204.98 792.22 2,684.28

The improvement from Australia to Malaysia had been obvious, but the team were still nowhere near being able to unleash the E22's full potential.

 

Progress in Bahrain

Lotus had 2,684 kilometres under their belts as the F1 world headed back to Bahraina little over half the figure Williams achieved in testing alone.

They went a long way to closing the gap with some excellent running in practice. Both Grosjean and Maldonado did more than a race distance across the three sessions.

But qualifying was a disappointment, and they lined up 16th (Grosjean) and 17th (Maldonado). It was a stark illustration that even at this stage, Lotus and their drivers lacked full understanding of the car.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

After the session, Maldonado told the team website:

We're not here to fight for P16 and P17 so it's a bit disappointing to see ourselves where we are in qualifying at the moment. We just need to be focused and try to push even more on the development of the car to catch the people around us. At the moment it’s fair to say our car is a bit on the slow side and quite difficult to drive. However we've made an important step forwards in terms of reliability. There have been no problems this weekend which is quite positive so fingers crossed for tomorrow.

The race went much the same way as Malaysia, with Lotus lagging a little behind the points-scorers. But there was one crucial differenceMaldonado also made it to the end.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total Total (Season)
Practice 64 346.24 77 416.57    
Qualifying 10 54.1 7 37.87    
Race 57 308.37 57 308.37    
Total   708.71   762.81 1,471.52 4,156

All the teams stayed on in Bahrain for the first in-season test of the year, but it wasn't a productive exercise for Lotus.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total Total (Season)
Testing 16 86.56 16 86.56 173.12 4,329.12

Over the two days, power unit issues meant Grosjean and Maldonado managed just 32 laps between them.

 

Showing Real Pace At Last

The team went to China with a respectable 4,329 kilometres on the board. Only Mercedes, Williams and Ferrari had done more in pre-season testing.

But while Lotus had been progressing, everyone else had been moving forward too. The law of diminishing returns would have meant teams like Williams were getting less from each kilometre than Lotus, but the Enstone team were still not quite up to speed.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Maldonado's crash in Shanghai was a slight distraction.

In practice and qualifying, Grosjean led the way. He managed to qualify in 10th place, by far Lotus' best result of the season so far. After practice, the Frenchman spoke of the improvements he was noticing, saying on the team website:

Everything seemed to work a little better today. It was a good Friday for us overall, we managed to do plenty of laps and understand as much as we could about the E22. We also evaluated a reasonable number of different parts on the car and power unit settings.

Maldonado lagged behind, but while Grosjean retired after 28 laps of the race, the Venezuelan made it to the end. From last place he climbed to 14th, contributing towards the team's weekend total of 1,161 kilometres.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total Total (Season)
Practice 64 348.8 46 250.7    
Qualifying 22 119.9 0 0    
Race 28 152.6 53 288.85    
Total   621.3   539.55 1,160.85 5,489.97

Grosjean had retired from a points-paying position, and it looked like Lotus were finally close to getting the E22 firing on all cylinders.

 

One Road Ends, Another Begins

And so to Spain. Lotus had now done 5,490 kilometres, and the car had shown genuine pace in Grosjean's hands at the last race in China.

Practice went well, with a Lotus in the top 10 of every practice session and a huge number of laps put on the board.

Maldonado crashed on his first qualifying lap and would start 21st, but Grosjean produced an exceptional lap to put his E22 fifth on the grid. Only the two Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull and Valtteri Bottas in the Williams went quicker.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The Frenchman settled into fifth after the start and looked to have the pace to stay there. On the demanding Catalunya circuit where downforce is king, the Lotus was finally showing at least a large part of the potential it had all along.

But then a sensor failed in Grosjean's power unit, leaving him struggling. He told Autosport:

It was a sensor failure that brought other issues. I think we were running five or six cylinders depending on what it decided to do. We lost it around lap 12. It was creating some other problems losing the quick shift on the gears.

It was a bit shaky in the car and not very powerful in a straight-line.

Both Ferraris breezed past the stricken Lotus, and it looked like a points finish would again slip from the team's fingers. But Grosjean held it together and only gave up one additional place, crossing the line in eighth.

Session Gros Laps Kilometres Mal Laps Kilometres Total Total (Season)
Practice 65 302.58 95 442.23    
Qualifying 18 83.79 2 9.31    
Race 65 302.58 65 305.58    
Total   688.95   757.12 1,446.07 6,936.04

Lotus can now look to the future with a renewed sense of optimism. After five races, the E22 has done 6,936 kilometres, and the understanding of the car is there to move on to even stronger results.

Spain was only the beginningthe car has more pace to come.

They won't catch Mercedes, and Red Bull are almost certainly out of reach too.

But there's no reason they can't get involved with the Ferraris, Williams, Force Indias and McLarens at Monaco and beyond.

That would be quite an achievement for the Enstone crew.

 

All lap data in tables from Formula1.com.

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