The Lotus F1 Team anticipates making significant inroads in its quest to return to the front of the field in the 2015 Formula 1 season with its all new Mercedes-powered E23 Hybrid challenger.
Having claimed race victories in 2012 and 2013, the team crashed back to earth in 2014 and finished a lowly eighth in the Constructors’ Championship standings with a meagre 10 championship points. The disappointing showing was due to a combination of factors, including the late launch of its radical E22 racer, which was beset by design and mechanical challenges while also being mated to an underpowered and unreliable Renault power unit.
The Enstone squad underwent a radical transition in the off-season, switching to Mercedes power and adopting an outwardly more conservative design in comparison to its unsightly ‘manta ray nosed’ E22.
One aspect that remained stable was its driver pairing of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, and it is these factors which Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi believes will see the black-and-gold cars mixing it at the front of the field.
“Romain has been with us a long time, we know he is a very fast driver. For Pastor, this is his second year with us so he has been very professional and positive for us. This year can only be better. He is a pleasure to work with and a fantastic fit, so the results will come with the new set-up of the car and the engine,” he said.
While the E23 Hybrid didn’t set the timing screens alight in the first pre-season test at Jerez, the new car proved to be much more reliable than its predecessor at the same point in 2014.
Maldonado ran for two days and completed 137 laps with a best time of 1:22.713, while Grosjean ran for one day and posted a fastest time of 1:23.802 over 53 laps. Combined, the pair managed 522 miles of running – more than the E22 managed in the entire pre-season – but still well short of the tally managed by its fellow Mercedes-powered runners who had the full four days of running (the team was late arriving at Jerez).
“It is a huge, huge change from last year with this new engine and Mercedes, so for us it is a fantastic step forward,” he added.
“On the development of the car, we started working on it in the middle of last year and we have learned a lot from all of the things we went through, so we are hoping we are going to have a very competitive year.
“We learned a lot from all of the bad results and the bad experiences, but we have a fantastic deal of experience within the team so we are looking forward to bouncing back for this season.”
Team boss Gerard Lopez was rather more cautious in his predictions for 2015, and indicated that the season ahead would serve as a platform to return the team to its former race-winning glory in 2016.
“Two years ago, we claimed a win and 13 podiums. We were right up there with Red Bull and challenging Mercedes and Ferrari for a top-three finish in the constructors’ championship, while beating McLaren, Force India and Williams,” the Luxembourg businessman said.
“After such a tough season, I think it’s wiser not to swagger about [just yet]. Let’s keep a low profile, stay humble in the face of the hardships we experienced, and remain careful not to hit the repeat button.
“First, let’s work very hard to recover and return to our 2013 form. Only then can we talk about aiming higher. Let’s reclaim our rightful place first and revise our targets next,” he added.
The second of the year’s three official pre-season tests will take place at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya between February 19-22.
Image via XPB Images