Lotus employees did a remarkable job in 2015, holding the team in difficult circumstances amid takeover talks by Renault.
2015 was not an easy year for Lotus F1 team by any measure. The employees of the indebted squad faced uncertainty over their future, with owner Genii Capital cutting funding amid talks of a takeover by French manufacturer Renault.
Creditors filed a winding up petition in the court while several other issues had a far more visible impact on its operation. For instance, in Hungary, Pirelli delayed supply of its tyres to Lotus until unpaid bills were settled. A more serious issue emerged in Spa where bailiffs surrounded the team’s garage, due to a court action brought by disgruntled former third driver Charles Pic.
It was only at the end of September that Renault signed a letter of intent with Gravity Motorsport S.a.rl to take over the squad, ending months of speculation and promising to clear previous debts.
However, the negotiations between the two companies meant that little money was spent on the development of the car, with parts designed in the factory never actually making it to the test track.
The above fact makes Lotus’ 2015 achievements even more remarkable. After a tumultuous 2014 season that saw them score just 10 points, the team was regularly fighting for points this year, with Romain Grosjean’s surprise podium at Spa finish being the obvious highlight. But apart from that unmissable result, several other performances went largely unnoticed.
Grosjean’s drive from 18th on the grid to ninth at the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi was highly impressive, and underlined the quality of a driver Team Enstone has nurtured since his low-key debut in 2009 (and a scrappy return three years later).
A switch to Mercedes parts brought with it a major chunk of lap time and improved reliability, but the chassis too was a clear step forward over its predecessor.
Had the team been able to develop the car further, a potential fight with Force India for fifth in the standings was on the cards. Instead, Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado had to spend the latter part of the season ensuring Toro Rosso doesn’t steal its sixth spot in the championship.
What lies ahead
The takeover from Renault improves the medium-to-long term prospects for Team Enstone. The team would no longer face financial issues (although manufacturers have a tendency of pulling the plug whenever their programme doesn’t meet their high targets), while an increased headcount will help it to return to old glory.
There are still some doubts over Renault’s uninspiring driver lineup for 2016, with Maldonado and
Jolyon Palmer being signed by the previous management. The former, although was seen making fewer mistakes this year, was still some way off the pace of his highly rated teammate, while Palmer’s tale is more complicated one.
Though the British driver took a deserved GP2 crown in 2014, it took him four years to achieve that feat. Moreover, in 2013, he was outgunned by Carlin teammate Felipe Nasr, who had spent one less year in GP2 machinery.
In any case, the purchase by Renault signals positive times to come for the outfit.
by Rachit Thukral