Misguided optimism or a genuine target? Pre-season media spin regularly consists of team personnel throwing out phrases to grab the attention and capture their audience. At the start of 2012, Lotus secretly knew they had a potent weapon in the E20 along with two very fast drivers in Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. We all know the story. The E20 was the dark horse throughout the season, obtaining an early consistency that other teams failed to achieve but themselves unable to make the final breakthrough to reach the top step of the podium, which finally came in Round 18. Opinions have varied wildly with regards to rating Lotus’s 2012 season. Some believe that with an Alonso or Vettel in the cockpit, the E20 would have stood a chance of winning the championship. But whatever your viewpoint, Lotus’s 2012 was a huge improvement on a miserable 2011. The task now is to build on a strong year and if that means improving on fourth place then one of Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren must be displaced. Lotus’s gains in 2012 means that expectations for 2013 have been raised, in turn emphasising any potential failures.
One of Lotus’s advantages in 2012 was that other teams suffered from inconsistency and unreliability. Red Bull’s early troubles, Ferrari’s lack of pace and McLaren’s habit of breaking down combined to pave the way for Lotus to score points. That isn’t to discredit Lotus’s achievements, but the Enstone-based team cannot rely on the top three to make errors, instead they themselves must challenge the front runners. All of this while fending off a revitalised Mercedes with a hungry Lewis Hamilton.
In terms of the E21, it’s obviously difficult to know what to expect. With the rules remaining relatively stable, the order of the field should stay fairly unchanged. Red Bull and McLaren already begin with a sizeable advantage, while Ferrari may also be out of reach. A crucial part of the year for Lotus will be the back end of the season when the development split between 2013 and 2014 becomes a tricky balancing act. Will a team such as Lotus be able to work effectively on both the E21 and the 2014 machine, without compromising either season? Lotus’s trait has been to tail off as the season progresses – the Abu Dhabi win was the only podium across the final eight events – with 2013/14 being a critical period in terms of the next few years. Technical director James Allison remains coy about the potential of the E21, “We have continued with our design themes and tried to build a more efficient and faster racing car based on all the lessons we learnt last year. How successful we have been at this we will only know once we take to the track at Grands Prix.” So the level of success is unknown, but Allison knows he has to refine a strong machine as “the official target established by the team’s owners is to achieve a minimum of third place in the Constructors’ Championship”.
Expectations of Lotus will be high. Few expected Mercedes to disappoint to such an extent in 2012 and slump to a distant fifth place; they will return stronger this season. Lotus is no longer the dark horse; they’re out to challenge as an established front running team. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again. But can they do it in 2013?
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