A new name, a new engine supplier in Renault and the gear box and hydraulic system from Red Bull all had the Hingham based squad full of talk of bridging the gap to the midfield runners when they launched the T128 online on January 31st.
No matter what headlines the team could create on track this year (short of a win), it’s destined to be over shadowed by the proceedings in the high court in the battle over the right to use the Lotus name in F1. On May 27th, Lord Justice Peter Smith ruled that Tony Fernandez did have the right to carry the historic Team Lotus badge on his cars.
The victory in the High Court couldn’t be replicated on the race track however. Jarnu Trulli in particular has been outspoken from the word go about the T128s power steering system, complaining about the lack of feel through the steering wheel, a problem that wasn’t rectified to his satisfaction until Hungary. As the cars lined up for the first race in Australia, it was clear that if they were to reach their goal of consistently running in the midfield, the car would have to be dramatically improved. Once again they were in no man’s land. Half a second quicker than the Virgins, but 2 seconds off of the pace of the tail end midfield runners.
In qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, Heikki Kovalainen gave the team their first outing into Q2 of the season (thanks to both Force India drivers opting to save their allocation of options tyres for the race and Nick Heidfeld’s car sustaining fire damage in free practice) giving them a huge boost. On race day, 13th place has been the glass ceiling that they haven’t been able to break through. Trulli has twice finished there in Melbourne and Monaco, benefiting from the high number of retirees whilst keeping his nose clean. In Monaco, he was backed up by Kovalainen in 14th to give them their best finish to date.
With Group Lotus appealing their ‘victory’ in the high court, Team Lotus could well be making the headlines for events off the track rather for their exploits on it. It’s unlikely that we’ll see them running with the likes of Williams and Torro Rosso consistently in the remainder of this season. Nor can I see them losing the coveted 10th place in the constructors championship. As the team continue to build their own wind tunnel at the Hingham factory, they will start using one of the Williams wind tunnels alongside their programme in Italy with Aerolab in September. Tony Fernandes, Team Lotus Team Principal: “There are a number of reasons why I am delighted that we have signed this deal. From a practical perspective there are the obvious benefits of increasing our wind tunnel activity and using a state of the art facility in the UK, and I am sure that will immediately help Marianne Hinson (Head of Aerodynamics and CFD) and her team to work even more effectively in one of the key areas of the ongoing development of our team.” The team also announced it will be running Red Bulls KERS system from 2012.