Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes and tech chief Mike Gascoyne believe the Anglo-Malaysian outfit has now made its F1 breakthrough following today’s race at Sepang.
“I think we can officially say we were racing today,” Fernandes told Autosport after the race, in which Heikki Koavalainen recorded a 15th place finish whilst Jarno Trulli dropped out with clutch problems.
“Overall our pace was very good at the end, particularly when we were with the leading cars, and we were very close to passing one of the Toro Rossos as we came over the line which shows how we have progressed,” added Gascoyne.
Lotus entered 2011 convinced that they had made the step necessary to fight the midfield teams, but have failed to live up to that in either of this season’s qualifying sessions thus far, never looking genuinely likely to make it out of Q1. Their cars have started both races 19th and 20th.
However they have managed to leave fellow 2010 newboys Virgin and HRT in the dust, increasing their gap over both significantly between Abu Dhabi and Australia.
But that – combined with a gap of around a second to the teams directly in front of them – has left Kovalainen and Trulli in a somewhat lonely position, floating between their former rivals and those they now wish to mix it with. Badger’s Craig Normansell subsequently dubbed this the Lotus Position, and we’re sticking with it.
Regardless of position, Lotus have undoubtedly improved since last season. Though they may be qualifying in the same positions the gap has come down and they can just about mix it with the midfield teams over the course of a grand prix. But it’s that last second needed to put them squarely in the mix with the likes of Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber that will be the toughest to shave off. The notion that they’ve made the breakthrough yet isn’t yet fully convincing.