The 2015 season has brought to light surprises that not only contradict what I expected from Lotus, but what they had expected as well. It seemed to be the perfect answer, ‘let’s dump Renault and get ourselves a brand new Mercedes power-plant’, after all, that’s the whole problem, right? Wrong. It takes far more to make a winning car than just the engine. Not that the power-plant wasn’t part of the problem.
Doubtful that Lotus will see a podium this season. They haven’t come close to the promising results of 2013. They won’t see those results again for quite some time.
Many reasons can be cited for Lotus to have gone from the little engine that could down to the little engine with no engineers. Most of the Lotus brain-trust defected after the 2013 season and no matter who you are, when that happens, you break the chain of harmony. The Renault power-plant plagued other teams in 2014 and now 2015 as well. No, Pastor Maldonado isn’t the reason for the slide back down the grid.
Maldonado may be a paying driver, but he is a very fast paying driver. His biggest problem is that he isn’t Fernando Alonso. Alonso was able to get a half second out of a half baked car. Maldonado doesn’t have the ability to adapt to a car that isn’t perfect. Over driving a racing car is a recipe for disaster unless you can take advantage of the cars strength and minimize it’s weaknesses. Maldonado is just balls out. He doesn’t intellectually assess and adjust for the car he’s driving.
The entire team took a hit when key employees left. That is the number one reason that Lotus is in the mud right now. They have no chemistry, no singular mission and desire to build towards a winning car. The pieces in this puzzle have yet to be made to fit.
In Malaysia, the one man standing, Romain Grosjean, saw the checkered flag when Pastor retired his car due to ERS issues. A miracle happened in China when Romain finished in the points at a solid seventh position. Romain seems to be able to drive over many of the car’s problems, but that isn’t enough. Real progress has to be made, not just being stuck in midfield. Even McLaren, with a seemingly impossible task, continues to improve at every race.
The Godsend result happened in Bahrain when Lotus took home another six points thanks to Romain Grosjean’s outcome. Pastor was able to complete his first race of the season. I was surprised he was able to finish the race, however, it still left me wondering how the team can cope with knowing they have the best power unit available, and still finish in a heap of smoke, or hardly finish at all? It has to be demoralizing.
The answer is simple but only McLaren and Felipe Massa have dared utter it. Mercedes isn’t giving it’s customers the same codes as they, the factory, have. Remember Ron Dennis saying just that? It was his main reason for seducing Honda back into the game. Mercedes isn’t giving the customer teams the same source code.
Therefore their way to diminish every other team that is a customer of their power unit is to let them configure all of the electronic and software magic on their own. This is nothing new, when you lease engines in a top motorsport from the top team, you get the “B” motor. It doesn’t matter who you are, you don’t get the exact engine that the factory team has.
In Formula One, they may hand you the exact power-plant, but it take very special software to make that power-plant work. The four stroke engine and the hybrid electric portions of the power-plant have to not only mesh with each other, but mesh with the car itself. Lotus is in the same boat as Williams and Force India.
The story remains the same with Ferrari supplying Sauber and Manor. Why give out your precious secrets to teams like Sauber or Manor unless it’s to experiment with components? This is racing after all, any advantage will be taken for granted.
With that being said, Lotus isn’t in the worse state. They can’t complain if they’re actually seeing the checkered flag and with one driver who can make it, it’s better than both drivers not making it.
They’re already ahead, if only slightly, of where they were last year when they partnered with Renault. They now have to mature within the team itself.
People actually do make up a winning collective in auto racing and that’s the next step for Lotus.