Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Lotus technical chief James Allison is thankful Eric Boullier allowed him to innovated ahead of the new Formula One season – even after last year’s brave design ultimately failed.
In 2011 Lotus Renault’s unique exhaust system looked good early on, but made future development almost impossible as the R31 laboured over the line come the end of the calendar.
But with the new season ready for the off with the first free practice in Melbourne on Friday, hopes are high the Hethel-backed constructor has turned a corner – and could even close the gap on the big boys in front.
“I can only thank my boss,” said Allison of team principal Boullier. “He had every reason to demand from us a conservative car, but instead they encouraged us to continue to be innovative. You can get it right that way but there’s also a lot of risk.”
It has not all been plain sailing for Lotus however, having lost a third of their testing time through an engine mount issue.
“It was a proper setback; we lost four days of testing,” said Allison. “The good thing is that our car was very reliable in the first test so the base of the car was already strong. This meant we didn’t really have great doubts about whether we could run lots of kilometres once the specific failure of the chassis was addressed.
“However, it was lost set-up time, a lost opportunity for our drivers to get more kilometres under their belts and lost opportunities for us to learn more about this year’s tyres. All of these were extremely unwelcome, but it was not a mortal blow.
“That is our target (the top four) and we believe we have a good shout at being able to do this. However, the precise order of the grid is notoriously hard to read from winter testing.”
Lotus will have a pair of comeback kids this season, kicking off in Australia, with Romain Grosjean and 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen taking the wheel – the latter bringing a serious sense of fans’ excitement with him.
“I have to say he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with in testing,” said Allison. “He was able to bang in a race distance from the first day he drove with us with absolutely no sign of physical exertion. It was immediately clear that he has returned to the sport very fit and extremely enthusiastic to succeed.
“He’s a real pleasure for his engineers to work with, giving very clear feedback in a civilised manner.
“Romain is a young, fresh-faced talent. He showed in Jerez that he is capable of setting very respectable lap times. He clearly took on board all the feedback we gave him from that first test and applied everything when we were next out in Barcelona.
“It was a very pleasant surprise to have a driver so receptive to input and one who is able to react and apply the lessons so quickly and comprehensively.”