Lotus took a step closer to the midfield in 2011 but rarely raced convincingly with the cars immediately in front of them.
With Virgin and HRT lapping a second or more off their pace, that usually left the two T128s occupying a limbo territory with little real racing to be done.
When an opportunity to race with the quicker cars presented itself, it was usually Heikki Kovalainen who took advantage.
But his best drive came at Singapore, where he held off Vitaly Petrov throughout the race.
This battle hinged on rapid pit work by the Lotus crew although Kovalainen came alarmingly close to taking out leader Sebastian Vettel as he left the pits. Lotus were fortunate to escape more serious punishment as the team had also been penalised for an unsafe release in Hungary.
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Kovalainen finished the race in front of the Renault. This was to the delight of team principal Tony Fernandes, who at the time was in the middle of a the long, bitter battle with the team over the right to use the name ‘Lotus’.
Kovalainen also led his team mate home in Suzuka where, for the first time since 1987, both Lotuses finished on the lead lap. Their performance was somewhat flattered by a safety car period, but it was another sign of their progress.
Having switched to Renault engines and Red Bull gearboxes over the winter the team had much to digest on the technical front and this manifested itself in several reliability problems. But they development until the final race of the season, introducing a new rear wing in Brazil, but still fell short of escaping Q1.
Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne said the exhaust-blown diffuser was “the single biggest thing to cope with” in terms of development:
“Obviously in 2010 we didn’t have it, so we worked on it over the winter and what became clear from pre-season testing was that the blown floor concept had clearly been taken a lot further than expected by the major teams, and we were therefore still quite a way behind on that.
“Although we reacted to that and had, in Turkey I think, our big update to the blown diffuser, we, along with a lot of other teams trying to introduce such elements, struggled to get the performance out of it.
“We weren’t able to get the numbers out of the diffuser that we were seeing in the wind tunnel. The numbers were there but we just couldn’t translate them to the track. Teams that had the technology for a while and that had more opportunities to test it were able to do that. Ultimately that is the real reason why we didn’t manage to close the gap to the people in front.”
A persistent problem with the power steering affected Jarno Trulli far more than Kovalainen.
When the car and track were to his liking Trulli showed he can still turn out a good result. Such as in Monaco, a track he has always thrived on, where he claimed 13th place.
But all too often he was off Kovalainen’s place, usually qualifying and finishing well behind his team mate. The team announced in September Trulli would be retained for 2012 but that hasn’t stopped rumours he will be dropped to make way for a Red Bull Development Driver, most likely Daniel Ricciardo.
It was Trulli who was compelled to give up his seat to make way for Karun Chandhok at the German Grand Prix. However the Indian driver struggled in his one-off appearance.
Against expectations, the team did not bring Chandhok back for the Indian Grand Prix, preferring to concentrating on holding their vital and valuable tenth place in the constructors’ championship.
Having relinquished the Lotus name to Renault, the team will become Caterham next year. But in more tangible areas such as the engine and gearbox they will benefit from stability and have the opportunity to add KERS to their car, an omission which clearly hurt them at times this year.
2011 F1 season review
- The 2011 F1 season: The complete F1 Fanatic review
- Your 2011 F1 predictions revisited
- 2011 F1 statistics part 3: Stats and facts highlights
- 2011 F1 statistics part two: Vettel’s domination
- 2011 F1 statistics part one: car performance
- New 2011 rules produced best racing of last four years
- What F1 Fanatics really thought of the 2011 season
- Sebastian Vettel voted F1 Fanatic Driver of the Year
- F1 Fanatic’s article highlights of 2011
- Dominant Red Bull join F1’s top teams
Images © Team Lotus