It’s been a strange couple of days for ‘Lotus’. ‘Lotus’ the Cotswold team that races in F1 has, of course, no commercial connections with ‘Lotus’, the company that makes sports cars in Norfolk. Not since last April anyhow, and the start of an apparent spiral of inertia at the road car lot. Certainly Group Lotus (road cars) were able to explain away today’s application for a winding up petition as merely a procedural play in a game, the result of which had already been agreed outside of chambers.
But still… it’s not like there’s been a lot of good news coming out of Norfolk around Group Lotus. In fact, there’s not really been any news at all. Until yesterday: a win, and surely the most generous gift of free publicity since Kate Middleton’s last high-street frock? All of which begs the question: why does the team formerly known as Toleman/Benetton/Renault race as ‘Lotus’ and not as ‘Genii Racing’, reflecting the team’s ownership by the private investment group? Genii is not a bad name actually. Would have been a gift for yesterday’s headline writers…
It started out as a sponsorship, albeit with some complex financials, lasting seven years and worth £100 million (cash Lotus just didn’t have, hence the complexity). Fair enough. But once it was dissolved? I can only imagine that selling sponsors Lotus is easier than selling them Genii, what with the not unimpressive backstory and everything.
What I can’t figure is this: if Gerard Lopez (Genii boss) is indeed still interested in buying Group Lotus one day, isn’t boosting the Lotus name pushing up the value of one of the only real assets the group has? Alternatively, does it give him leverage? After all, the value in the name has only travelled one way, across the country from Norfolk to the Cotswolds. In that sense he already ‘owns’ the name. It’s not like Group Lotus can licence it to anyone else.
So, moving on. Is that Lotus name going to get more and more exposure this year? That is, can Kimi keep winning, or was yesterday just a freak result? No, categorically it wasn’t. Let’s not forget here that Kimi inherited his win last year when Hamilton’s McLaren threw another sickie. Yesterday he won fair and square. The team were simply not able to do that last year. So definite progress. But relatively speaking?
Well, the Red Bulls were comfortably quicker than Raikkonen in that odd Sunday morning Q3, not that it all went smoothly for Kimi. Thing is though, Vettel killed his rear tyres in the process which just wasn’t smart. In the race he was doomed the moment he pitted for mediums on lap seven, two before Kimi. The RB9, like its predecessors, is set up to win from pole, not race in the pack. Whatever top speed disadvantage its high downforce set-up implies can be neutered by Vettel’s prodigious talent, which invariably sees him out of DRS-danger by the end of the first lap.
But not yesterday, when those knackered super-softs wouldn’t let him escape the Ferraris in the first stint. Even once they were switched for the mediums, the car’s set-up made getting past the impressive Adrian Sutil in the Force India too much of challenge, even for the triple champ. Red Bull could not then dictate other team’s tactics. It was all about speed vs degradation or, in the case of yesterday, about Ferrari vs Lotus.
Is this racing? Of course it is. The characteristics of the tyres are no different from the any of the other absolutes: the fuel, the aerodynamic regulations… It’s all about doing the best with what is there, and though the tyres do change from race to race, climate to climate, surface to surface, all the cars are on the track at the same time. The Lotus was the best car yesterday and could still be this weekend in Malaysia where the surface gives the tyres an even tougher going over — Pirelli is taking its mediums and hard compounds only to Sepang.
Sure, Red Bull and Ferrari and even Mercedes (who still seem to suffer ‘inexplicable tyre degradation syndrome’ more than most) will have moved on. But so will Lotus. That odd intake, just behind Kimi’s head (what’s being called ‘the baboon’s arse’), is Lotus’s passive DRD (drag reduction device). Only it was blanked off in Australia. James Alison, technical director and possible great white hope for McLaren, has suggested it might run in Malaysia. He says it’s “fiercely complex” to make work, but that the gains are “tantalising”. Ooh-er.
It’s very clear that while we don’t expect to hear much from Norfolk Lotus in the coming months, Cotswold Lotus has big plans indeed.