It is well-known in Formula One that time is integral to any development. Whether it be designing the car or testing new configurations; strict limits on wind-tunnel use and testing can only allow for a certain amount of improvement during the season. For the three new teams that joined the grid in 2010, the last two years have consisted of non-stop development just to keep within touching distance of the more established outfits. Team Lotus has proved itself to be the out-standing case of the new entries and as we come to the end of the 2011 season the T128 is quickly becoming a nuisance for the mid-field runners.
The team began the season with the usual teething problems; having to build a brand new car based around a Renault engine and a Red Bull gearbox would not be simple. Due to these complications they lost out on exploiting parts of the car which other teams had maximised, most obvious was the use of the blown diffuser. “Obviously in 2010 we didn’t have it, so we worked on it over the winter.” Said Mike Gascoyne, Chief Technical Officer of Team Lotus. Gascoyne believes that unsolved issues with the diffuser is the key reason that the team has been unable to make the extra step to challenge the likes of Toro Rosso and Williams. “The numbers were there but we just couldn’t translate them to the track. Teams that had the technology for a while and that had more opportunities to test it were able to do that. Ultimately that is the real reason why we didn’t manage to close the gap to the people in front.” Added Gascoyne.
The team also suffered with it’s power steering system, Jarno Trulli in particular found it difficult to establish a feeling with the car. Both drivers had asked for the T128 to have more assistance with the power steering, however with more assistance came more friction. This caused a bigger “dead band” (an area where no control boost is applied, which can result in the steering wheel twitching to keep the car in a straight line) and gave both drivers a lack of feel. It hampered Trulli most and due to the problem he sat-out of the German Grand Prix. By Hungary, however, the team had fitted a new system to the car which gave Trulli much more confidence in pushing the car to its limit. “As soon as we put the new power steering on, he instantly found a huge amount of time in the car and was able to push a lot harder than previously.” Gascoyne said.
As more rule changes come in next year Gascoyne feels that the repositioning of the exhausts, effectively getting rid of blown diffusers will help them to make strides towards the front. “It is a very big change. And as a team coming from behind that curve, it very much plays into our hands.” Said Gascoyne of the rule change. The team are looking forward to next year and believe that with the T128 they have a strong platform with which to develop. “I would say that the 2012 car will look quite different because of the regulation changes regarding the nose of the car and things like that, but under the skin it will have a lot of the T128’s DNA.”
With an extra year of knowledge and stability through the team, the 2012 Caterham F1 Team are set to be a much improved player on the grid. As they are able to focus on designing a car in-tune with its engine and gearbox we may be seeing the green and yellow livery turning even more heads next year.