Lotus’ troubled start to the season continued in Sepang as the team’s drivers set a total of just 14 timed laps across both opening practice sessions, with neither driver record a time in FP1 and Pastor Maldonado failing to set a time all day.
The Venezuelan was restricted to the garage for much of the morning session in Malaysia but he eventually took the track with 20 minutes remaining. His outing didn’t last long however. Midway through his out lap smoke could be seen pouring from the back of his E22 and he was quickly told to “switch off the car” by his team.
Grosjean, meanwhile, had been on track early in the session, but his running was ended just 25 minutes in when he stopped on track. After a lengthy spell in the garage the Frenchman did eventually make it back out, returning to the fray with seven minutes of the session remaining. He completed a single installation lap before heading back to the pit lane.
It was a similar story in the afternoon. Maldonado spent the session garage-bound as the team replaced the Renault power unit in his car following the turbo failure of the morning.
Grosjean made it out, however, taking to the track just after the green light went out at the start of the session. He completed 10 laps before returning to the garage for lengthy spell. He headed back on track with just under half an hour left but after four more laps, he was slowing once again reporting that he had “lost gearbox!” He stopped and again the recovery truck was called for an E22.
Afterwards, Grosjean admitted that the situation has become more than frustrating. “We have to work and try to solve all our issues,” he said. “This morning we couldn’t do any laps, and this afternoon we burnt a cable which stopped the gearbox from working. Of course I don’t get out of the car with a smile when my car is parked out on track and is not working, and you do swear a little bit in your head!”
Maldonado though was similarly unimpressed. “It’s important for the team and it’s important for me to be able to test the car and push a little bit, as it was not the case in the first race,” he said. “It’s tough as each time we’re expecting to be better and better.”
After missing the opening test in Jerez at the start of the year, Lotus logged a total of 238 laps in total across the two Bahrain tests, compared with 761 for Williams across the same two tests.
Compromised by their lack of running in testing, the team decamped to Melbourne where in the opening practice session Maldonado completed just two untimed laps, while Grosjean managed none at all. In the second session the French driver completed 12 laps while this time it was Maldonado who failed to log a time.
Their weekend didn’t get any better the following day. Final practice saw just one car touring again, with Maldonado completing 15 laps. Both were eliminated in Q1, Maldonado without a time Grosjean in 21st place.
The race was similarly deflating, with both drivers exiting the grand prix with ERS problems before 23 laps had elapsed.
The essential issue for Lotus now is that with each passing session and each missed opportunity to assess the E22, their rivals put further distance between themselves and the Enstone team in terms of development.
After another fruitless day Grosjean, at least, attempted to find positives, saying: “I’ve said before, it’s only the second race of the season and we always knew we would be starting on the back foot. We will get to where we want to be.”
The question remains, just how long a process that is likely to be.