Blimey! Lotus. Who would have thought? Did you think? We have to admit we didn’t. But get this; with half the F1 season plus one race gone (we have had 11, the ninth starts on Sunday in Belgium), Lotus is leading Ferrari in the F1 Constructors World Championship. Wha-hey! It’s 1963 all over again.
Well kind of. Lotus has yet to win a race, when five other teams have (McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams and Mercedes), but it can’t be far away now, can it?
The Lotus E20 (the ‘E’ by the way stands for ‘Enstone’ where the team that was Renault, that was Benetton, that was Toleman is based in the UK) is, like the Williams and the Sauber, easy on its tyres. Especially the softs. Especially on race days where, across the eleven races we have so far, the E20 probably been the most consistently quick car.
The wins haven’t come because the team is just lacking that edge in strategic thinking. Indeed almost the last winning strategic call this team made was to ask one its drivers to crash so that Fernando Alonso might win the 2008 Grand Prix in Singapore. Ahem. This year it’s usually been “if only there had been a another couple of laps… (usually) Kimi Raikkonen might have won”. Except in the case of China, where a couple of laps less would have meant the returning champion might have had six podiums and not the impressive five he has already scored.
Raikkonen, as you might expect, doesn’t have time for ‘if onlys’ and one can only assume it is the Finn’s relentless pursuance of a car that will let him win again, and win regularly, that has the seen the team blossom. We have to admit, here at Sunday Afternoon Club we weren’t altogether convinced about the Raikkonen return. It seemed (and consider that at the time Lotus F1 was still commercially linked to Group Lotus), like yet another one of the former Dany Bahar’s star turns, like Sharon Stone or Swiss Beatz.
We should have had more faith in Genii and Lopez and their man Eric Boullier. Raikkonen has rarely shown his pouty side this year and when he has — as when he refused to drive the Lotus in practice in Monaco — his motives have usually been correct. In any case Boullier seems to know how to engage with Mr Monosyllable. Ferrari must be wishing it had now; two years of rallying have taken none of the edge off the man. Quite the reverse, he appears to have added patience and pragmatism to the Raikkonen cocktail. He might just set the second half of the season on fire.
Urging him on to do is of course the performances of Romain Grosjean. Looking too smiley and too thin to be an F1 driver, Grosjean has been a the rookie of the year from the moment he put showed the E20’s class with third place in the grid in Australia.
That he struggled to find his way around that first lap there should not be held against him. The mistakes have been weeded out and having out-qualified Kimi seven times over four, he’s clearly got the pace. Then that’s where Boullier’s obvious skills in managing his talent will again bear fruit. Grosjean is a long-term investment and will be given all the time he needs, not that he looks like needing much.
It’s an ‘A’ boys. Nail that win and an ‘A Plus’ is on the cards.