The past two events have been difficult for championship contenders Lotus. Kimi Raikkonen dropped 40 points to Sebastian Vettel while in the Constructors Championship, Lotus slipped behind Monaco winner Mercedes. It’s far from a disastrous sequence of races for the Enstone based team, but they urgently need to arrest that slide at the British Grand Prix.
Raikkonen’s tenth place result in Monaco was exacerbated by his collision with McLaren’s Sergio Perez. Until their contact, Raikkonen had been running as ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes and Red Bull around the narrow streets. The nature of the circuit in Canada was always going to present Lotus with a difficult challenge and the cooler, wetter conditions simply worsened matters. A similar situation affected Lotus during the early, wet phase of the Malaysian Grand Prix where they struggled in the midfield before finishing in sixth and seventh. The E21 has strong tyre preservation, but with that advantage comes difficulties in warming up the tyres for a single hot lap. It was such a scenario that caught out Romain Grosjean in final practice in Monaco as his tyres were not up to temperature, the rear end stepped out and he struck the barriers. Raikkonen limped into Q3 in Canada where he set the ninth fastest time, while Grosjean was out in Q1 and started at the back. Raikkonen was beset by a myriad of problems in Canada – including a brake issue, a slow pit stop and Renault’s fuel miscalculations – but still bagged a handful of points for ninth place. After his Monaco transgressions, Grosjean had a quiet race but was unable to execute a one stop strategy and finished in thirteenth place.
The Canadian Grand Prix was probably the most straightforward race of the season and subsequently this will be a concern for Lotus. Vettel’s damage limitation races have resulted in a pair of fourth places, while Raikkonen scored just three points when Lotus were below par. It’s a startling difference. Lotus’s rivals already have a head start and in superior machinery to the E21, which was lapped in Canada. As suggested a few races ago, Lotus’s key advantage – the ability to complete fewer stops than their rivals – will be diminished once teams begin to understand tyres. It looked as if, as with 2011 and 2012, that process is well under way.
There is hope for Lotus. The low-grip Monaco/Canada duo is likely to be the combination with which the E21 is least at ease. Raikkonen only scored six points in those races 12 months ago and in 2013 the Finn was beset by misfortune. The next trio of races should be kinder to Lotus, but like most teams they face a tricky decision: how do you split resources between 2013 and 2014? Unlike rivals Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, Enstone does not have as much luxury when it comes to finances. It’s true that money doesn’t buy success in Formula 1, but it certainly helps. And to what extent has the departure of James Allison affected the team?
Team principal Eric Boullier stressed that their Canada struggles were a one-off and that ‘you do not lose 1.5 seconds from one race to another one. It is just that something went wrong.’ The next few events will be crucial for Lotus’s prospects of battling for the world title, not to mention their 2014 aspirations and the future of Kimi Raikkonen. Lotus will need to be perfect for the rest of the year.