In what should be a period of improvement and consolidation for the Lotus Formula One team, the Enfield leave the Malaysian Grand Prix toward the rear of the Constructors’ table, with only the limp Manor behind them.
“Today was about unfulfilled potential. Both Pastor and Romain could have scored strongly but events out of their hands meant they did not.”
Depends on the viewpoint to a degree. This was not a day of celebration for Federico Gastaldi, Team Principal of the Lotus F1 squad. Despite a second Grand Prix with the (almost) all-conquering Mercedes engine and power unit, Lotus have still yet to score a single point in the 2015 season.
After a nothing race in Melbourne that was over for them in less than four laps, Pastor Maldonado called it a day with mechanical issues after 47 of the 56 laps, while Romain Grosjean took a scoreless 11th, after receiving a hefty punt from the Force India Sergio Perez on the 30th lap.
As noted by Gastaldi, “That’s motor racing sometimes…”
Yet even after the move from Renault-to-Mercedes power this year, there is still much to do at Enstone. Grosjean was able to maintain a solid pace and held top five position in the opening stint once the safety car had departed, but realistically more speed is needed.
Grosjean lost a lot of time during his opening stint behind a struggling Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) and where the quick guys were pitching in numerous laps in the 1‘46s-early 1’47s range, Grosjean could not get out of the mid-to-late 1’48s bracket. “We had quite a good race with a strong first lap and some nice overtaking,” said Grosjean after the race, before adding, “I lost a lot of time behind Hulkenberg and then the spin with Perez in such a fast corner.”
The first stint may have also revealed a tactical naivety within the team. Although an earlier pitstop could have dropped Grosjean toward the rear of the pack, it may have at least given him a portion of free air between the Felipe Nasr (Sauber) and Maldonado. Behind Hulkenberg, Grosjean was only slow.
The Frenchman stopped for a new set of medium compound Pirelli tyres after fifteen tours and spent much of the next forty laps registering laps in the 1’45s-1’46s region, but by then the pace of his competitors had also stepped up a notch.
When the race did eventually finish, the final points paying place – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) – was nearly twenty seconds up the road. “I had some fun overtaking with Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India, which was great, and we had a good strategy but we lost too much time to benefit from it. I also had an issue with my drinks bottle which added to the fun…”
On the other side of the garage, Maldonado’s difficult start to the year continued. After receiving a thump on the opening lap from Valtteri Bottas (Williams) that punctured his right rear tyre, mechanical woes ended the Venezuelan’s run.
Maldonado, however, was keen to look to the positives of the weekend. “The potential is clearly there, especially in the race where the car pace is very competitive and we can score good points.”
The luckless Maldonado continued: “There was an incident on the first lap which lost me a lot of time and compromised the race from then on. Despite dropping to the very back to the field, we switched to a different strategy and we recovered well.
“Unfortunately, we suffered from a brake issue, which isn’t great but it’s effectively our first race and we need to keep working through issues, ready for the next Grand Prix.”
Maldonado asserted himself further. “As soon as we have a clean race, we will be fighting for good points.”
They may be fighting for points in China at the next Grand Prix, but in their current situation, it may only be for the scraps as Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull continue to head the home.