Regardless of what the blind and the ignorant say (ie. Luca Di Montezemolo), the progress of the 3 new teams so far this year has been stunning. From one of them not even making the grid, and another one only barely, to battling in the midfield only 8 races later, is nothing short of a miracle. Just last weekend, at the Canadian Grand Prix, Lotus made their biggest leap yet in charging up the field.
Their actual raw pace, in qualifying, was the first sign, as Heikki Kovalainen got dangerously close to beating the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi, and he only missed out by 2 tenths. At the season opener in Bahrain, they were more than 5 seconds off the pace in qualifying. Now though, they are only 3 seconds behind the pole position time, as shown here:
Comparison of Lotus' qualifying times against pole position times
That was indicating the distance in time between the pole position lap, and the fastest Lotus driver. As we can see, Lotus have cut a massive 2.5 seconds off their deficit, not even halfway through their first season back in F1. It wasn’t just in qualifying only, they are also making progress in the races as well. Heikki Kovalainen successfully kept back Vitaly Petrov in the last 10 laps in Canada, for example. To make matters even better, he was racing the Russian on old tyres, which makes his performance much more impressive.
By the end of the season, I’m sure the team will want to be competing in the midfield. But, what next after that?
The team may not be the same one in the 1960′s and 1970′s, but they have kept an important relic to be used when they improve – Colin Chapman’s hat. Whenever Lotus won a race, Chapman would famously throw his hat into the air, 79 times over 2 decades. In memory of this, Tony Fernandes has been entrusted with this hat, which now goes with the team at every race. The glass case it is in reads “In case of victory, break glass”.
The question is. will Lotus ever be able to break the glass? Fernandes has previously said that he wants Lotus to be in the top 5 teams by 2013, and I think that this is a realistic target. Do you think that the new Lotus can ever win a race, and if so when?