Formula One 2013: Lotus team report

LotusTeam: Lotus Renault (4th in 2012 constructor’s championship)

2012 Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen (207pts, 3rd place in 2012 driver’s championship), Romain Grosjean (96pts, 8th in championship)

2013 Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen (Car Number 7) and Romain Grosjean (8)

New Car: The Lotus-Renault E21 pictured above is so similar looking to last year’s car, many a wag suggested at its launch it was last year’s car, including the ‘immodest’ 2012-style boxer’s nose. It isn’t, of course. Its name-you’ll-hear-more-of designer James Allison has more than fine-tuned the E20 in the search for a smidge more downforce. Last year’s double DRS is back in theory, we’ll have to wait for a week to see if it’s there in, um, practice.

What Lotus says about its 2012 season: “Well, you say that Kimi, but…”

What Sunday Afternoon Club says about 2012: Lotus won a race in 2012, notched umpteen podiums and had one of its drivers in contention for the title until the end of the season. Ultimately, however, it finished fourth in the championship behind Red Bull and Ferrari and McLaren.

Ferrari, it should be pointed out, had a similar asymmetry in its drivers’ performances, before you point out Lotus was a bit of a one-car team last year. And arguably, Lotus had a better car.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, much as we like Lotus (who doesn’t?) there’s no getting around the fact they are part of the following pack. Without the last fractions of seconds that having a budget the size of Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren’s brings as, frankly, does having a Vettel, Alonso or Hamliton in the car, Lotus needed the top three to slip up. The danger this year is that the top three becomes a top four, and Mercedes manages to vest all that talent and cash.

Raikkonen’s comeback was a bit of an enigma in that we rarely got the pace and aggression of McLaren-Kimi, but he also seemed over phoning it in like Ferrari-Kimi. Is he as good as he was? Almost. Is that best as good as VETALOHAM? Probably not. So you see Lotus’s problem. Romain Grosjean might not be the answer either. We don’t doubt his speed, but it is going to take some extraordinary head-shrinking for him ever to feel anything else than utterly paranoid on those first laps.

What Lotus has to do to impress the Sunday Afternoon Club this year: If Lotus continues to mess with the hegemony of the top six cars it will be one hell of result, budgets considered and all that. If it can keep a resurgent Mercedes at bay we’ll be impressed too, but even after a ‘good winter’ we suspect podiums and not wins will be the target for Lotus this year.

If you pay any attention to testing… In the last Barcelona test (where one assumes the cars were closer to the spec in which they’ll race) Kimi was eighth fastest, RoGros 16th. It should be pointed out that at Jerez and at the first Barcelona tests the E21 flew. When it held together.

Who are Lotus really racing this year? Of the top six cars in front, McLaren looks the weakest going in to round one, but by mid-season we suspect beatimng Mercedes will be more of an issue.

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