Lotus F1 team have recovered from a tumultuous 2014 season where it salvaged 10 points all year long. Since then, the team has re-established itself as a regular points scorer, with Romain Grosjean finishing in the top 10 at each of the last three races.
The biggest gains have unsurprisingly come by ditching Renault power unit for Mercedes, which has been F1’s pace setting engine since the advent of the new formula.
“V6 turbo engines broke our project,” Lotus’ deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi told Rach F1 in an exclusive interview during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. “When we realized that Renault couldn't give us the response we want, even though they were the first ones interested in this formula, we switched to Mercedes.”
However, a lot remains to be desired on the chassis side. After all, Williams with the same engine and ERS system have scored five times more points and stands three places ahead in the constructors table. Therefore, Lotus has embarked on a rapid development drive that should allow them to leapfrog the Grove based squad.
“We are always looking for updates. This weekend we are bringing updates to the rear wing, the front wing and the suspension. We are working like the rest of the teams. In this part of the championship in Europe, starting in Spain, adapting the car to the evolutions of previous GPs, and to this circuit, which we know well and it's a good circuit where we did a good test and it is a good place to test updates,’’ Gastaldi continued.
But finishing third in the championship is not in the DNA of a team that has won world championship in the guises of Benetton and Renault. They are yearning for more in the long run.
“Our (interim) goal is to be better than Williams,’’ Gastaldi said when asked about whether they can challenge the lead non-works Mercedes team. “But we are not focusing on being better than them, or Toro Rosso, or Sauber. We want to go back to our real level, which is superior to all teams. We are working on that.”
“We have already won championships. We are the same team as Toleman, Benetton or Renault and we still have a lot of staff from those periods and our main aim is to go back to 2013 levels. We are not here to see if we can be better than this or better than this or better than that team but to be the best among all of them,”he added.
When you look at the history of some of the most successful teams, you’ll find that, at their peak, they had the best brains in Formula 1. Ferrari, McLaren, Williams - you name it. Lotus was also blessed with a strong technical department, thanks to the finances of previous owners Renault. The team, however, has since hit financial trouble, inducing many top and lower level personnels to jump ship.
And Gastaldi admits that if his team is to achieve its ambitious targets, it needs to claw back some of its lost engineers.
“We have very good people in the team, with a lot of expertise” Gastaldi continued. “There are a few areas to be adjusted, we have to try to get back some people that other teams took away from us. F1 is a market like that, if you are offered three times the money you get currently, you leave. For example, James Allison worked for us when we were Benetton, then he moved to McLaren, from there to Ferrari, then he came back to us and again to Ferrari.”
Having the right people behind the wheels completes the equation. On one side, Lotus has a highly rated driver in form of Romain Grosjean, who is widely tipped to become a world champion in the future.
On the other side, however, they have Pastor Maldonado whose image and regular crashes has cost the team crucial points. More recently, however, he’s been a victim of bad luck, and is yet to open his points tally.
“Of course, it affects[us]. We need to change that bad luck. He is a very good driver and he has a very good car this year, but he needs a bit of luck.”
Lotus’ revival would be a great story for Formula 1. Williams returned to the forefront of F1 in 2014, while Ferrari have made the biggest gains over the winter in a bid to challenge Mercedes. Who’s betting on Lotus to join the duo, come 2016?
Interview and translation by Cristina DeLarge
Article written by Rachit Thukral