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Lotus - Flowering or floundering?

A top driver and surging one in a competitive team that seems to be just one little step behind, all the time. What is going on?
Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October 2nd, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).- Lotus. The nearly boys of Formula 1. The team that could - and really should - have won more than two races since the start of 2012. Try and think back; how many race weekends have you seriously considered Lotus a contender for the win on a Sunday? Plenty, yes? So why then, have they only managed those two victories in Abu Dhabi (2012) and Australia (2013)? .

Two world class drivers, an engineering team that any outfit in the paddock would desire, and in the E21 a car that looks competitive around all corners of the globe. I'm stumped, confused, frustrated even. As, I'm sure, are the team.

Is it a relative lack of pace in the car on a Saturday that then hampers ultimate results on a Sunday? Is it poor strategy? A lack of boldness at key times during a race? Lady luck not being there? A combination of some, or all?

Of course, having the pace on a Saturday does not necessarily equate to success on a Sunday afternoon, when the points are dished out. Taking pole is great, but at the end of a race weekend when the sun goes down, the cars are packed up and the grandstands are empty, who or what is everyone talking about? The pole sitter, or the race winner?

Mercedes showed in the early part of the season that they had the pace was on a Saturday, but come race day the only direction they were going, was backwards. How many teams have truly mastered the art of producing a competitive package across a whole weekend? Red Bull and...oh.

Just them. By providing their drivers with a car capable of performing at the very sharp end across a whole weekend, Vettel and Webber can go out there knowing that they will be there or thereabouts every single time.

By starting out front they can control the race, drive it at their pace and disappear without trace. Not always the best spectacle for the sport, but a brilliant achievement to not just win - and win so dominantly - but to do it on a regular basis. It can, at times, make the rest of the field look just a little silly.

Now, what of Lotus? We know that their car is quicker in race trim than in qualifying spec. We know that on occasion, it is the fastest race car out there. We know that they have two top-end, quality race drivers. We know then, that they should be winning more races.

Since Kimi's return at the start of 2012, the Lotus car has been quick. Very quick in fact. But why hasn't the speed in qualifying ever really looked liked its improved, or at least going to do so? For much of 2012 Kimi was actually outperformed on a Saturday by Romain Grosjean, only for the Finn's race craft and guile to bring him through the field come pay day.

This may sound slightly ridiculous and obvious to say, given that he is a former World Champion, but boy can Kimi race. He'll battle with anyone, in any car, for any position in a style that appears at times to a forgotten art in the world of Formula 1 racing. It's great to witness; a driver at the peak of performance fighting through the field to drag out a result that sees him take leave with a trophy to take home.

But therein sits the problem. He shouldn't need to fight through the field. The car is quick enough to race with - and beat - the Red Bull's and Mercedes' of this world on a regular basis. Starting at the back end of the top 10 though, is ruining his chances.

A Sebastian Vettel who is on pole position, leading the first lap and setting frankly ridiculous lap times, is currently in a league of his own. Then there's the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and his team mate Romain Grosjean who are all, usually, ahead of him on the parade lap.

Singapore highlighted just exactly what Kimi, the car and the team can do. They can drag a podium result out of nowhere, or in this case, 13th on the grid. This is though, an unwanted recurring picture.

It may appear to some that I'm bashing all things Lotus. Believe me, I'm not. They're easily the most likeable team in the paddock. A great looking car, a sense of humour I think we all admire, two contrasting but talented drivers and a work environment that can only make you smile; even from such a distance. As you can tell though, I'm frustrated; as are many others. Frustrated because we all know that they can do. Everything is (or was) in place to win.

'Was' could be the key word here. With the star driver leaving at the end of the year, high ranking team personnel being signed by competitors and continued speculation about finances; what just does the future hold for the black and gold outfit? I see very little point in speculating on potential driver line ups for next year so many unknowns on and off track at the moment, but one thing is for certain, replacing Kimi Raikkonen will be very, very hard.

The Finn's arrival last year seemed to spark new life into a team that been in the doldrums since Fernando Alonso's Championships in '05 and '06. They were soon a front running team again, one that looked like they could challenge for wins and possibly more. But, and this isn't a 'but' I really want to say, have they peaked? Of course, we don't know what 2014 is going to be like. New regulations, new power units, almost new everything. We just don't know. They are a lot of unknowns about 2014, but worryingly, there are also lots of unknowns surrounding Lotus.

However, in Romain Grosjean I truly believe they have a star, a driver that can win races and battle with the very best in the sport. At times he's epitomised his team. Undeniable speed and talent, but there's more often than not the fear of an error being just around the corner. Grosjean is a talent, a man who's had his troubles in the premier class, but one that is showing very positive signs of maturing into a driver that could move into the upper echelons of Formula 1.

The team now face a vital few weeks and months. Should they dwell on why Kimi has left them? Or use it as a springboard to further and future success? Now is the perfect time to turn a big negative into an even bigger positive. Making the right decision at the right time is what Formula 1 is all about.

Kimi's time at Lotus has provided us with plenty of humour, wit and quotes. It's been a hoot, a joy and a pleasure to watch and read. But now is the time to start looking ahead. It has been a successful partnership. Race wins, podiums, brilliant overtakes and comical radio conversations will all leave a lasting memory on many a mind. Kimi's arrival brought with it a revival; a revival of a Championship winning team that we've all enjoyed watching, following and interacting with. There is however that bitter taste of 'what could, or should, have been', which is so often the case with sport at any level. So here's the big question:

Has the revival already peaked, or only just started?

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