Lotus became the first F1 team to unveil its new car, when it pulled the wraps off the E21 in front of an audience live online via You Tube and on Sky Sports News in the UK.
The launch was handled by team owner Gerard Lopez and team principal Eric Boullier, while technical director James Allison together with the drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen pulled the wraps off the car. Raikkonen said that he believes the team has what it takes to win the world title.
Boullier said third place is the target for the 2013 season, which is ambitious, but builds on their success of 2012. He said that he expects Grosjean to deliver in 2013, having kept faith with him after some rocky times in 2012, with crashes and a race ban.
Well it is a direct descendant of the 2012 car, that is clear. This makes sense as the Lotus was one of the most competitive cars last year. They were late to the party on the Coanda exhausts, which channel exhaust gas down to the diffuser, so there is more to come for them in this area than their direct competitors.
There were places on the car where the engineers had clearly placed a “launch specification” part in order to give nothing away of their true intentions. The front wing, for example was rather vanilla and less aggressive and complex than the one which finished the 2012 season. The top element of the wing, for example, was very simple in comparison. That will surely change for the first test next week.
That said, the FIA is pushing the teams hard with stringent anti-flexing tests on the front wings, so it will be interesting across the board to see how they deal with this.
The nose itself is quite narrow and on launch specification is missing the bulbous underbelly which was present last season to help create balance.
The passive DRS air intake was missing from the air box, while the rear wing endplate was identical to the car from the end of last year.
The venue was dimly lit (probably on purpose!) so it was not possible to see the floor in detail. Last season Lotus had a very aggressive rear floor, angled away from the car to pull the rear tyre wake away from the floor. They were one of the most aggressive teams in that respect.
The suspension looks similar, which makes sense as the Lotus was one of the best cars last year at using its tyres.
Despite relaxation of the rules on the stepped noses, to remove the ugly blight on many of last year’s cars with a cosmetic panel, the bump on Lotus nose is still there; for the moment. This is likely to change. But at this stage, Lotus do not want to show their hand. There is an aerodynamic gain to be had from a plate which has been designed into the car, but we will have to wait to see Lotus’ solution.
“We have not done it yet because a cosmetic panel would weigh a few grammes and that’s anathema,” said Allison. “However if we find one which looks nice but more crucially which gives us a few more points of downforce we’ll put it on the car as quick as you like.”
Asked if this was basically an evolution of the 2012 car, Allison said,
“We’ve done a lot. There is a lot gone into it and it is going to be an exciting car.
“The rules for 2013 are very, very similar to 2012 so you can expect a lot of family resemblance from the 2012 car, but the devil is in the detail and it adds up to a significant amount of performance,” said Allison.
“There are lots of new ideas and same concepts we have been pushing on with for a few years.”
The use of the word “significant” to describe the performance step is interesting and implies that they feel that the gain is of the order of half a second per lap or more.
The car had the black and gold livery, but with red accent colour on the air box and rear wing, with a scaling down of Total branding, a small amount of branding from Coca Cola energy drink “Burn” on the front wing endplates and the name “Kimi” on the air box, which looked like a holding sticker for a prospective sponsor.
Raikkonen said that he enjoyed his comeback last year and is open to a conversation later this year about extending his contract with Lotus. He added that he believes Lotus has what it takes to win the world title,
“I think they do. It’s clear from working with them that they are racers, and you can see in their history that they’ve won championships,” he said. “Nothing I saw last year made me think that another championship was impossible in the future. Of course, there is some pretty tough competition out there and everyone wants to win. The team have beaten everyone before and there’s nothing to say they can’t do it again.”
The third driver is reigning GP2 series champion Davide Valsecchi. Alain Prost’s son Nicolas will be the Development Driver. Jérôme D’Ambrosio will continue with the team as Reserve Driver.
[Additional technical input: Mark Gillan]