Whatever they may say, there’s a great deal of expectation on the shoulders of the ‘new’ Lotus Formula One team. For this team carries the name of the second most successful 'manufacturer' team in the sport’s history.
Colin Chapman’s team from Hethel, winning seven constructor and six driver world championships, dominated the 1960s and 1970s. But the core of the team was ripped out following Chapman’s death in 1982 and Team Lotus suffered a slow and painful demise before finally being put out of its misery at the end of 1994.
Fast forward 16 years and Lotus has become the second of F1’s four new teams to launch its 2010 cars and its entry seems the most credible. Question marks remain over Campos’s and USF1’s ability to make the grid, and Virgin’s CFD-designed car seems worryingly off the pace, not to mention suffering front wing failure in Jerez yesterday. And then there’s the mysterious Serbians Stefan GP waiting in the wings.
Lotus’s driver line-up resembles that of a strong mid-field team. Heikki Kovalinen and Jarno Trulli are both race winners and can be devastatingly quick, although doubts still remain over their pace over a full race distance.
Lotus has also had the benefit of designing its car in a wind tunnel and seems to have some serious financial backing from Proton and the Malaysian government, as well as team owner Tony Fernandes of Air Asia fame – a man also being linked with a takeover of practically every football club in the country.
Mike Gascoyne should provide the team with the kind of strong, individual leadership he threatened at Toyota, but was never allowed to make as decisions filtered between Cologne and Japan. He will be an asset to Lotus should he be allowed to get on and run the team without any internal interfering.
British fans love an underdog and Lotus will certainly provide that. If the team (or any of the new teams) score a smattering of points this season, it will be an even greater achievement than Brawn’s title success last year. With the infrastructure Honda left behind and the vast sums thrown by Honda in 2008 at 2009’s car, Brawn was no start-up manufacturer. This year’s lot are.
The romantic feeling surrounding Lotus and an over-reliance on its name and past glories could also be its undoing. Originally, the team is based in an ageing industrial unit in Norfolk – not exactly the McLaren Technology Centre. The exact involvement of Group Lotus also remains a mystery and needs clarifying.
We’ve already got one F1 icon on Bahrain’s grid – a certain Michael Schumacher. But the return of Lotus could be just as big a coup for the sport. Schuey’s not got to be around forever – with the right investment, expectations and leadership Lotus could well be the only one of four new teams to outlast Schumacher’s second coming.