Lotus team principal Eric Boullier revealed it was a “relief” to watch Kimi Raikkonen take the team’s first win of the season in Abu Dhabi and first for the squad from Enstone, formerly known as Renault, since Fernando Alonso took victory in the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix.
It was a victory which included a bit of good fortune as Lewis Hamilton’s retirement with a fuel pressure problem allowed Raikkonen to inherit the lead and one which rewarded them after a season of near misses.
The black and gold liveried team started the season on the back foot after missing the second test due to a problem with the front-suspension mounting, but the pure speed of the E20 – which looked like one of the grid’s strongest and most inventive cars – was clear.
Points finishes in each of the first three races was a solid start, but round four in Bahrain was the first race in which Lotus could have challenged for victory. But a disappointing qualifying, which proved to be the team’s Achilles heel for much of the season, proved their downfall.
Raikkonen spent much of the race hustling leader Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull, but couldn’t find a way past and ended up second ahead of team mate Romain Grosjean.
The Finn came close again in Spain, but an erroneous pit strategy put him out of the challenge and he finished third while in Canada, the pace of the Lotus was clear when Grosjean battled through the field to take a second. The Frenchman had rotten luck at the next race in Valencia when his alternator failed while he was battling with Fernando Alonso for the lead.
Struggles in qualifying hampered the team once again in Hungary with Raikkonen unable to pass Lewis Hamilton and settling for second ahead of Grosjean in the team’s second double podium finish of the season.
Lotus’s appeared to lose out in the development race as the season wore on, with their form tailing off in the second half of the season as they struggled to make their new double DRS work.
They bolted it on the car in practice in Germany and have since tested it on several occasions. However, they have yet to use the device in a grand prix with technical director James Allison saying recently that they are unlikely to do so before the end of the season.
“We’re not giving up on it because there is some goodness in there, but that really is tricky. Well, we found it so,” Allison said.
“We will bring it out to play at the young drivers’ test [which is taking place in Abu Dhabi this week] and hope to make some progress there.”
But the team’s new Coanda-effect exhausts, which were bolted on the car in Korea, have reignited their season and proved a success. The downward facing device makes use of the exhaust gases to boost the car’s aerodynamics.
That upgrade, coupled with a better qualifying and strong start from Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi, put the Enstone-based team in the position to contend for victory – something team boss Eric Boullier was pleased to have finally have achieved.
“When we you look back at the season we could say we were that close to do it, let’s do it next year,” he said. “I have to say it’s a good relief to say it’s done!”
And Boullier believes the team, which has limited resources compared to the big teams, can now start to compete for victory on a regular basis which will in turn help the outfit attract funding.
“It’s good to see that our car was matching the pace and being fastest on track, or nearly the fastest one,” said Boullier. “And it’s it good to see what we produce as a team. We can do it and we can compete with the big boys. That’s clearly a very good source of motivation and belief in the future.
“We have now shown the world we are serious, that we can deliver and so it should help with any commercial discussions. But to build a team, a winning team, we also need more experience and time because this team is new in a way, new with two new drivers.
“We have learned this year to work all together, with our drivers, and we’ve had our ups and downs. But we can see now Kimi is here for qualifying and the race, and as for Romain, we will see yet.
“We have been on an upward curve this year, but now there is extra belief and motivation in what we are doing and capable of doing.”
Raikkonen, for example, has scored points in 17 of the 18 races – including six podiums – this season. Grosjean, meanwhile, has been involved in seven first lap crashes – one of which saw him banned for a race – alongside his three podiums to cost the team a host of valuable points.
Should the team re-sign him for next season, they will need and expect him to keep his nose clean and deliver on a consistent basis like his team mate if they want to contend for both drivers’ and constructors’ titles.