The Lotus E22, the final car to hit the track in this pre season build up, should finally get a run out today at Jerez, Spain. It is due to be given a shakedown in preparation for the crucial Bahrain tests starting in a couple of weeks.
Pastor Maldonado will drive the car and he tweeted, “Finally back to the track work, planing a filming day in Jerez today. Looking forward to drive the new E22.”
Lotus elected to skip the Jerez group test last week, which in retrospect looks like a reasonable plan given the troubles that Renault powered teams encountered. Most severe was the Red Bull team, which managed only 21 laps of running.
The buzz among F1 teams and insiders is all around how long it will take for Renault to fix the problems, which they encountered with their new hybrid engine when installed in cars.
The engine had undergone testing on dynamometers, but a variety of problems including electrical energy issues, turbo management and cooling issues on some cars, notably the Red Bull, have put them on the back foot; problems concerning the control and operation of the various sub-systems of the power unit within the car. Renault produced some short term fixes in Jerez and promised a more definitive fix for the Bahrain tests, but it’s clear that they have lost time and are continuing to lose time, relative to the opposition.
As McLaren showed vividly last season, losing time at the start of the year is a dangerous game because the other teams move forward at such a pace, you cannot catch up. Even a well resourced team like McLaren stood little chance of making up lost ground.
Estimates of how far Renault are behind range from two months to six months. If it’s the former then they can fix their problems and the leading teams like Red Bull might have a chance of clawing back points, especially with their ability to develop on the aero side and their strong track record in the second half of F1 seasons.
But if it’s more like six months, then the season is lost. This would also be a blow for the other Renault customer teams, Lotus, Caterham and Toro Rosso in their respective midfield and tail of the field battles.
So the onus is on the Mercedes and Ferrari powered cars to get a strong start to the year and rack up the early points.
Early indications are that among the Mercedes powered teams, Williams are set for a much stronger season, McLaren has a better car, albeit with some question marks around the rear end aerodynamics, while all eyes will be on Force India in Bahrain as they did not cover as much ground as the others in Jerez.
Mercedes appear the favourites, but are unwilling to even discuss that notion, preferring to focus on developing their car and seeing where they are in Melbourne and Sepang, the first two races of the season.