After the first two rounds of the season, Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Malaysia has been the leading headline, as an unexpected challenger to Mercedes superiority has emerged. However, one of the most curious aspects of the fledgling season has been the stuttering start for Lotus. The E23 has promised so much, with a shiny new Mercedes powertrain providing some relief following last year’s dire performance, yet the team are yet to convert this new ingredient into a top ten finish – disconcertingly, a la 2014.
However, to make a comparison to their 2014 campaign is largely unfair. The Enstone squad have had to swallow a dose of misfortune in the opening rounds. Pastor Maldonado’s crash in Australia was followed by a puncture in Malaysia, while Romain Grosjean lost time following contact with Sergio Perez in the second outing. None of these incidents could be attributed to poor car performance or driving.
What has been more concerning, however, is the reliability issues faced by the squad in the opening exchanges of 2015. Grosjean’s Australian adventure lasted just one lap, while Maldonado was forced into retirement last time out with a brake issue. Teething problems have definitely proved to be more forthcoming in the E23 compared to many rivals.
When the car has been running without incident, it has demonstrated just why the engineers consider it to be a stark contrast in performance compared with its predecessor. In Melbourne, both drivers comfortably qualified for Q3 – a feat which was never managed last year.
In last weekend’s team personnel press conference, Matt Carter, the team’s CEO, stated that the outfit’s aspirations for the season are to challenge Williams and Ferrari. Following the Scuderia’s impressive renaissance, I would suggest that a battle with F1’s oldest competitor is now off the radar, but matching Williams is a far more achievable goal.
It may seem to be a dream scenario considering Lotus’ poor opening innings, but their failure to score points so far does not reflect their potential to return to the sharp end of proceedings this season.
Image Credit: "Barcelona Test 3 Day 2" By Rachel Clarke, [CC-BY-2.0]