While most attention will inevitably be focussed on the battle for the world championship, there are other significant themes waiting to unfold in 2011.
One of the most interesting is whether the three new teams that arrived last year can catch up to the established teams.
Lotus are the team who look most likely to be able to do this.
They were the quickest and most reliable of the new teams over the majority of 2010, and even managed two finishes ahead of a running car from one of the leading teams. This year they need to be able to do that consistently. Lotus have produced a much more purposeful looking car and the drivers have had positive things to say about it.
In order to solve the gearbox problems that plagued them last year the team are using a drivetrain supplied by Red Bull. This also allows for a pull rod rear suspension layout, following the trend set by the world champions.
Technical director Mike Gascoyne has also adopted a less popular trend started by Mercedes last year and picked up by Force India in 2011: the ‘blade’ roll-hoop and split air intake.
The air is now being fed to a Renault engine, replacing the Cosworths used last year. Given the scale of the changes involved the team have elected to avoid the added complication of running KERS.
That could be a wise move given the reliability problems they experienced in testing. These were aggravated by delays in getting new parts from the factory.
Nonetheless Lotus persevered and they were rewarded on the final day of testing when Kovalainen racked up an impressive 138 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya – more than two race distances.
Originally the car was going to be called a TL11 and painted black and gold. The team’s plans have been disrupted by their ongoing row with Renault over the rights to use the name ‘Lotus’, which will go before the high court next week.
That particular argument reflects poorly on all concerned and will hopefully be concluded in short order, leaving us to concentrate on the real story.
The prospect of a team which only came into existence 18 months ago being able to compete for points is more than just exciting – it’s essential for the long-term health of Formula 1.
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Image ?é?® Julien Leroy / firstlap.be