Lotus optimistic as “new era” begins with Mercedes

2015 F1 season preview

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The team

Lotus won races in 2012 and 2013 but they’ve had a tough time since they last crossed the finishing line first. It started at the back end of 2013 as a departing Kimi Raikkonen revealed they had fallen well behind on his salary payments due to financial problems.

And though matters improved somewhat off-track last year, their performance on it was disastrous. The E22 registered just three points finishes – by far the worst season the team has endured in the five years since it was taken over by Genii in 2010.

The root cause of this wasn’t hard to identify: the Renault power unit was both lacking in grunt and woefully unreliable. And fortunately for the team a solution was close at hand. As McLaren cut their ties with Mercedes an opportunity presented itself for Lotus to obtain the best power unit in F1, ending its 20-year ties to the French manufacturer.

The team’s CEO Matthew Carter describes the year ahead as a “new era” for Lotus. The trauma of 2013 forced the team to cut its cloth accordingly, but the team’s race operations has been reinforced for the year ahead.

Improvements within our design, aero and simulation departments have all contributed to the development of a car which is a huge step forward,” said Carter.

“As a team we are confident that the new car coupled with additions to the race team will enable a huge leap forward and we are full of optimism going into the new season.”

The drivers

8. Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean left it late to commit to Lotus and made it abundantly clear he wanted a much better power unit than last year’s Renault under his right foot.

Following his superb end to 2013 the team’s dismal campaign the following year was a bitter blow for him. Nonetheless he showed some great flashes of pace – notably in Spain.

13. Pastor Maldonado

It must have been painful for Pastor Maldonado to observe the upswing in form his former team Williams enjoyed last year. With the same Mercedes power beneath his right foot he now has the chance to remind them – and everyone else – just how quick he can be.

However last year gave little cause for optimism Maldonado is about to put his propensity for needless incidents behind him any time soon.

The car

Although Lotus’s Mercedes deal was announced fairly late, the designers knew from an early stage they would have to integrate a power unit with significantly different characteristics to last year’s Renault. The resulting car, according to technical director Nick Chester, is “one of the most technically advanced cars to have come out of Enstone”.

Lotus pursued a “very tight and aggressive build programme with the E23”, he added, so much so that it missed the first day of testing. However the team quickly had it running well and during the second test at the Circuit de Catalunya it posted some impressive times.

Inevitably the team have high expectations for their switch to Mercedes power. Crucially, they will use Petronas lubricants as Mercedes do, which should ensure they get the most from the new hardware.

The team’s pre-season testing ended when Maldonado experienced a braking problem which led to a crash, something which will be a cause for concern as the team heads to Melbourne. Nonetheless Lotus look set for a considerably better campaign in 2015.

Over to you

How will Lotus fare against their fellow Mercedes engine customers? Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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18 comments on “Lotus optimistic as “new era” begins with Mercedes”

  1. I think they’ll be third in the Mercedes pecking order, ahead only of Force India. But even that will be a very close run thing.

  2. I predict a mid season fallout when they realise Mercedes give them less attention than Renault did, and possibly a issue regarding the ‘cheat codes’ for the Merc PU as Williams made reference to last year.

    1. What is the story on manufacturers permanently holding back customer teams?

      What are people’s thoughts on this subject?

      In this new age of highly integrated power units, which rely on huge amounts of correctly executed code/software, the power unit manufacturers surely have a huge upper hand.

      Are not all customer teams destined to be at a permanent disadvantage due to this?

      This is why McLaren’s hand was forced in many respects. They realised that regardless of how quickly they got up and running with Honda, they would still have a better chance beating Mercedes by leaving them [with all the risks that entails] than they would staying as a customer.


      1. @mach1 Manufacturers don’t hold back customer teams, but they do have an advantage in the integration of the chassis and engine because they can alter both to suit their needs, while a customer team has to adapt its chassis around the engine it is given. Basically that means that a manufacturer is more likely to produce a better chassis than a customer team, and with the current complex power units integration has become much more important than before.

        However, manufacturers certainly don’t purposefully “hold back” their customer teams, or else the customer wouldn’t want to use their engines. Remember that between 2010 – 2012, McLaren (a Mercedes customer team) outperformed the Mercedes works team. I know that was before the current complex power units, but still, it shows that works teams don’t restrict their customer’s performance so that they can be better.

        Regarding people’s suspicion that customer teams are given inferior engines, Toto Wolff said: “There are the same engines in every car out there, and you see quite some difference between customers. Of course as a power unit manufacturer and chassis manufacturer you have certain advantages on integration, and that comes down to mechanical balance, centre of gravity, etc.”

        So basically, it just comes down to the benefits from integration advantages. This means that a customer team can certainly do very well (e.g. Williams), but it is difficult for them to beat the works team, as they will need to produce a better chassis than them, despite not having the same integration advantages of the works team.

    2. I think Mercedes are already giving them more focus than Renault were. According to Lopez, Renault focused all of its efforts on Red Bull last season and neglected its other customers. I can’t find the link, but I remember him saying recently that he was very impressed with Mercedes’ approach – as Mercedes’ factory is much closer than Renault’s, Mercedes send down an engine guy every week to check up on things, and they even have a separate office at Enstone for the Mercedes engineer so that he can be on hand to help out more often.

      Also, Williams have confirmed that the works Mercedes team doesn’t impose any unfair restrictions on their PU customers.

      Asked by Sky Sports News HQ whether there was any truth to claims that their contract with the German manufacturer stipulated they couldn’t release the full power of the engine when in combat with a Mercedes works car, Symonds replied: “There’s absolutely nothing in the contract that goes to anywhere near that sort of level of detail.

      “They had a really good car last year and that’s what we aspire to.”

      1. M.H. Phillips
        2nd March 2015, 20:11

        Claire Williams had similar praise for Mercedes’ support last winter.

        That’s not the source of origin for my knowledge of the matter, but you’ll find similar accounts if you dig through the various other motorsport journalism sources on the internet. Contrarily, I could spend half the day citing articles in which Renault customers relayed their dissatisfaction with their support. Let’s not forget that in the thereabouts of this time last season, their premium client was implicating their lack of integration preparation for their performance woes. Which leaves me to wonder about the basis of Ross’ predictions.

        1. Was just a prediction, it’s what Keith asked for…

          1. M.H.Phillips
            3rd March 2015, 9:33

            Yeah, but ideally one would root a prediction in some factual basis. Yours ignored that practically every Mercedes client has conveyed satisfaction with the support they’re receiving while every Renault customer has conveyed dissatisfaction. It just doesn’t make sense.

          2. Now now M.H. if every prediction made sense the betting agencies wouldn’t have a particularly troubling time. I fear you have spent far too much time thinking about my lowly prediction already but hitherto, from a Lotus point of view, their relationship with Renault has deteriorated slowly over a number of years, from manufacturer team to well performing outsider to an also ran. One cannot blame Renault for moving focus to a well funded and well oiled machine like Red Bull, seeing Renault spend the majority of their time with Red Bull must have been extremely frustrating for Lotus, coupled with the Renaults poor PU performance last year, their hopes would be buoyed by the arrival of a Mercedes PU. Now Mercedes have 4 teams to supply, Force India, Lotus, Mercedes and Williams, in no particular order, stretching resources just that little bit further, while Renault have lost Caterham and Lotus, which will free up resources to focus more attention towards Red Bull, and should there be any incidents where upon we find a Mercedes fighting with a Lotus for a victory only for the factory Mercs PU to be somehow a tad more aggressive then, maybe, just maybe, Lotus would react badly, and see the grass greener back on the original side of the fence. Also if you believe every piece of PR written about F1 suppliers and teams then I fear you are a just a smidge naive, and finally as it is my prediction it doesn’t need to make sense to you, just me.

  3. They will be 6th behind Mercedes,red bull,Williams,Ferrari,mclaren only ahead of Force India and the back markers

  4. Isn’t it only logical that every new car is going to be “the most technically advanced cars to have come out of [team factory]”? You don’t expect them to make a car that is less advanced that the old ones.

    1. Not at all given how tight the rules are. Twelve months ago their car had FRIC, for example.

  5. I think Lotus will regain a form much closer to 2012 and 2013.
    They will not be competitive every time and in every track, but they will be fighting for podiums in some, for sure.
    The fight for second-best Mercedes team will be close, with Williams beating them at first and on some tracks.

    For me the doubt is either Ferrari and Red Bull will be ahead or in the same mix. Again it will depend on the tracks.
    But if 2014 had the big question of who coped better with the new rules, in 2015 for me the entertaining doubt at season start (and for the first races) is: who is going to finish behind Mercedes and take the spoils when they crack?
    For me Lotus is one of the teams that can be on that position, every now and then.

  6. I really hope it will be a good year for Grosjean!

  7. Lotus will do better than last season, but I just can’t get excited by them. In my opinion they will be a solidly midfield team this year, might achieve a podium or two but they won’t be a top four team

  8. I don’t think they’ll improve much. Grosjean is probably the most overrated driver on the current F1 grid and Maldonado is just an accident-prone pay driver who simply had one lucky day in Spain few years ago. I’m expecting Lotus to have least points from all Mercedes-powered teams.

    1. Grosjean delivered some amazing performances in 2013. I think you should replay the Japan and US Grand Prix’s of that year to enlighten yourself.

  9. Can someone tell me who from the 2013 design team is still working in Lotus? Or their Championship winning ways as Renault? That should be more of a factor than the drivers, which, while not stellar, are quite competent in my view.

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