The Lotus Formula 1 team is making some bold moves forward as it nears the end of its first season in Formula 1.
The team, established exactly one year ago by Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian music to airlines entrepreneur and F1 engineer Mike Gascoyne, will soon be renamed Team Lotus and this weekend it inked a deal with Renault for a technical collaboration involving two years supply of engines, gearboxes and KERS system.
When Force India made the switch for 2009, they immediately moved up from the back of the grid and even took pole and challenged for the win in the Belgian Grand Prix. Typically in 2008 they were 1.7secs to 2 secs off the pace. A year later they were around 1sec off the pace early in the season and ended it 0.5 sec off.
This step, which may even involve closer ties than just the technical partnership, will give Lotus a proven package around which they can finesse the aerodynamics and move up the field to challenge Sauber, Toro Rosso and maybe others next season. It is a strong challenge to Virgin Racing and Hispania.
There has been no official statement yet, but the deal is done.
Fernandes said on the BBC yesterday,
“Lots of negotiations have gone on over the last couple of weeks and we’re very happy with the outcome. We want to move up the grid and we want to be up there with the Red Bulls and Ferraris in years to come – we’re not going to do that overnight but we’ve got to make those constant steps forwards.”
This season Lotus, like all the new teams, has been using Cosworth engines and suffered greatly with reliability problems around the gearbox and hydraulics provided by Xtrac.
The Cosworth engine has been pretty reliable and has steadily improved through the year – in its most serious test so far at Monza, a Cosworth engined car was 9th fastest through the speed trap at 341km/h, comparable with the Renault engined cars.
The other breakthrough has been that Fernandes has managed to acquire the rights to the name Team Lotus from David Hunt, brother of 1976 world champion James. This will allow them to use the original Lotus logo, with Colin Chapman’s initials in it, and has other heritage benefits.
The team will be able to claim a direct connection with the Team Lotus which raced from 1958 to 1994, winning 79 races and six constructors’ championships. It is brand with a strong racing pedigree, evoking memories of great drivers like Jim Clark and Mario Andretti and it will be interesting to see how Fernandes leverages it in Asia and developing markets.
What has been pleasing about the way Lotus have conducted themselves this year is that they have made some strong moves, like hiring experienced drivers and now the Renault deal and the rebranding to Team Lotus, but have done so in a humble way, acknowledging the fact that they are new kids on the block.