Mid-Season Review: Lotus

Following a tortuous 2014 driving an E22 which was notoriously unpredictable, both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were hopeful that 2015 would see Enstone return to the upper echelon of the field. While the successor to last season’s twin-tusked machine is a marked improvement, the E23 is yet to show any of the race winning credentials that were possessed by the Lotus’ that propelled Kimi Raikkonen to his 19th and 20th career wins. This fact, combined with a heap of misfortune and occasional driver errors means that Lotus have a right to feel a touch disappointed with their points tally at the halfway mark.

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Timeline of the season so far

  • 20th January – Reigning GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer is announced as Lotus’ Third Driver for the forthcoming season.
  • 26th January – The team reveal rendered images of their 2015 charger – the E23.
  • 26th February – Former GP3 driver Carmen Jorda is announced as the team’s development driver.
  • 15th March – Despite a promising qualifying, both Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean failed to finish the opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix, as a result of contact at turn one and reliability gremlins respectively.
  • 27th April – Lotus complete a filming day at Brands Hatch. Unusually, the event was open to the public and admission was free. It was the first time that a modern F1 car had been unleashed on the Kent circuit since 2008.
  • 15th June – The team secure a double points finish in Canada in surprising circumstances, with Maldonado stretching one set of soft compound tyres for a remarkable 53 laps, while a late incident with Will Stevens forced Grosjean to ghost back into the points scoring places in the closing stages.
  • 24th July – Lotus effectively miss the first practice session ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, after an eleventh hour payment to Pirelli meant that the Italian manufacturer held the team’s supply of tyres until the payment had been processed.
  • 26th July – Renault representatives admit to the media that they are interested in purchasing the Enstone squad in order to run their own team in the sport once again.

Team Performance

Current Constructors Standings Position: 6th (35 points)

Lotus’ season so far is perhaps one of the more difficult to assess. The Enstone squad entered the season with a similar primary goal to rivals Sauber – to simply improve on what was a dire 2014 campaign – and like Sauber, Lotus have indeed made an improvement, but in doing so, have entered a crowded midfield pack where mere tenths define the difference between a strong haul of points and a disappointing weekend.

Unfortunately for the ever-popular team, disappointment has been the prevailing emotion far too often in 2015. The Mercedes powertrain has rectified the power related failures that both Grosjean and Maldonado regularly endured when using Renault units in 2014, yet unreliability has still hampered their progress, as well as racing incidents. The Australian Grand Prix in March somewhat set the agenda for what was to follow; flashes of potential ultimately dashed by difficulties of both a technical and racing nature, with Maldonado in the barriers and Grosjean in the garage before one circuit had even been completed.

Considering their modest budget of 139.1 million euros, (as reported recently by F1i.com), it will always be difficult for them to repeat the incredible 2012 and 2013 campaigns, let alone sustain such success. Their efforts in 2015 have brought them back into the heart of the midfield which was an important endeavor following a troubled year.

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Driver Performance

Romain Grosjean

Current Drivers Standings Position: 10th (23 points)

Best Finish: 7th (Chinese, Bahrain and Hungarian GP)

Grade: B-

Pastor Maldonado

Current Drivers Standings Position: 14th (12 points)

Best Finish: 7th (Canadian and Austrian GP)

Grade: D

Neither Lotus driver is yet to reach peak performance in 2015, as many of their form traits seem to have become a hangover from 2014. Romain Grosjean, however, has been relatively impressive this season, considering the circumstances. In frequently vacating his seat to Jolyon Palmer in FP1, Grosjean has sacrificed huge amounts of track time, which is priceless in modern F1, with testing being a ring-fenced activity. He may have been unable to replicate the form which saw him claim three podiums in the final five races of 2013, but Grosjean has still been impressive in 2015, doing more than enough to safeguard his Lotus seat.

Pastor Maldonado on the other hand, has been far less convincing. The statistics tell the story of a driver who has only managed to reach the chequered flag on four occasions this season, but ultimately, this fact is rather unrepresentative given that numerous retirements can simply be assigned to misfortune. However, his performance has been patchy at best, with the Venezuelan effectively throwing away points paying positions with his numerous adventures in China and Hungary. An improvement in car reliability will provide Maldonado with a better platform to boost what is a rather meager points tally.

Mid-Season Assessment

C+

Many pundits wondered whether a new-look Lotus outfit, powered by the Brixworth built Mercedes powerunit, could re-engage in the battle for top honours and win their first race since the Australian Grand Prix of 2013 this season. Ultimately, given the difficulties of 2014, it seems that such a step forward was a bridge too far. While the E23 is a significant improvement on its predecessor, unreliability has served to conceal the car’s true place in F1’s pecking order. Given their credentials, Lotus are right to have expected more than sixth in the constructors as the sport draws breath at the halfway mark.

Image Credit: "Pastor Maldonado" and "Barcelona Test 3 Day 1"
By Steve Hayes and Rachel Clarke (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]
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