By their own admission Team Lotus is not where it expected to be at this stage, which was fighting with the slowest of the midfield teams; in Budapest the car was three tenths slower than Buemi’s Toro Rosso and half a second slower than Maldonado’s Williams.
Although the car was two seconds per lap faster in Budapest than Virgin or HRT, it remains perilously close at the foot of the championship table with Trulli’s two 13th place finishes keeping the team in the lucrative 10th place, ahead of HRT with one 13th place. One topsy turvy race could turn that around, so Lotus could really do with scoring a point to be sure. The team has a series of steps planned including a major upgrade for Singapore, which technical boss Mike Gascoyne believes should be worth half a second.
While it’s generally agreed that Heikki Kovalainen is having a great season, his team mate Jarno Trulli has had a tough season so far having struggled with the power steering system on the car up to Silverstone and sat out the German Grand Prix while a new one was being prepared. He may miss the Indian Grand Prix weekend also, in order for Karun Chandhok to have a second run in the car.
Trulli was far more competitive with the new power steering system in Hungary, although he was still narrowly outqualified by team mate Heikki Kovalainen. His race was cut short by a water leak.
Trulli is championed by technical chief Mike Gascoyne who still feels the Italian has plenty to offer both in pace and development skills, with Lotus at a critical stage of its development.
One gets the feeling that next year the technical department and drivers have to deliver and take the team a step up the grid. The pressure is definitely rising, with the arrival of sponsors like GE putting proper money into the team and a whole plan for marketing the team and Caterham cars off the back of it, there can be no excuses for staying adrift of the midfield for a third season.
Despite his demoralising struggles Trulli is keen to be part of it; “Some announcement will be done probably in the next weeks, but at the moment I’m happy with the way it is and I just want to focus on my job and the team and my results. I want to enjoy what I’m doing because I wasn’t enjoying it much before,” said Trulli, a veteran of 243 Grands Prix.
There was speculation after he missed Germany that he had done so in exchange for a new contract for 2012. Although the team had sounded out the availability of Nico Hulkenberg, there are few other young drivers around staking a serious claim to the seat.
The 37 year old Italian described the new power steering as a different world for him, and he is confident he will be able to make more progress as the season progresses.
“They did a good job with the new power steering system, which is giving me the exact feeling with the car. I think we can still improve the system, but the feeling is okay. For the first time this season I started working with the car and changing many things because many things were becoming very clear for me.
“I’m extremely precise. This has been my weakness and also my strength and when we had this power steering the feeling I was getting it was not the real one. What was happening with the car it was not was transmitting to me.”
Gascoyne, always a big supporter of Trulli’s, told Autosport, “A lot of people were writing him off, which is understandable at his stage of his career, but it’s nice that he can show he’s bounced back. We felt we weren’t doing a good enough job for him, and it gives us an enormous amount of pride to say that yes, we’re doing it now. We’re pretty pleased about that.”
It’s been hard work getting Team Lotus up to speed with plenty of bumps in the road. The finishing record this season hasn’t been great, with eight retirements in 22 starts, but there is optimism internally that things are heading in the right direction. The team will shortly start its deal with Williams to use their wind tunnel and with sponsorship money from GE now coming in, the team is still expanding and adding staff in key aerodynamics jobs to work under technical director Mark Smith, who started work recently.