With only 12 days of testing available before the 2014 Formula 1 season begins in Melbourne on March 16, Lotus’s decision to miss the four-day Jerez test has far-reaching consequences.
As F1 teams work to a tight schedule with every element of the project determined far in advance, this appears to be a late decision and was presumably not part of the initial plan.
Why Lotus would choose to do this is baffling. This year, the technical regulations have changed fundamentally, there is a new turbo engine, energy recovery system, gearbox, braking system and aero to test, as well as the latest specification Pirelli tires.
As most of these technologies are untested on track, losing a third of its pre-season running will be a serious setback in Lotus’s preparations for Australia. Whereas other teams will treat Jerez as a shakedown for the new cars, putting miles on the new systems and data gathering, Lotus has lost this opportunity.
One key advantage of the Jerez test is its convenient location in the same part of the world as F1 teams’ European bases. Parts required can be flown same day or driven overnight to the circuit, which is not so easy in Bahrain.
ABSENT FROM TIRE TEST TOO
Additionally, Lotus did not attend the December Pirelli tire test in Bahrain, so it has had only the brief wet session in Brazil to gather data on the new tires to feed back into the design and simulation programs. If Lotus does not attend Jerez, even with an old car, this alone may be enough to cost the team vital pace at the start of the season.
Turning up late to pre-season testing is a ploy teams can use to gain some advantages over the opposition as it can allow more time to design and make parts of the new car. It can also allow innovative technology to be kept under wraps for a few vital extra weeks.
But, this year it is hard to envisage how those bonuses could outweigh the cost of missing track time amid the massive rule changes. Additionally, the energy recovery strategies are unique to each team, not simply to the engine.
Lotus not being able to run its engine will be somewhat offset by the other Renault customers attending the Jerez test, but any Lotus-specific installation details, such as heat shielding, will not be replicated on the other cars, so it cannot learn everything from Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Caterham’s experience.
So vital track time spent trying different scenarios with the petrol engine and energy recovery systems will have to be completed at the complex simulator Lotus has installed at Enstone. The new gearbox can also be rig tested.
EVERY LAP COUNTS
With just two sets of four days at each test, the team will have a lot of work to do in running the mandatory single car far away in Bahrain and needs every hour and every lap. For example, an engine failure, which is a likely problem given the all-new technology, can cost half a day of running. With just four days in-between the two Bahrain tests, any modifications required to the car will have to be done locally or via shipping the tub by air back to its Enstone, UK factory.
This year, it is surely better to gain track time, even if is with an early iteration of the car’s design, learning the tires and gaining mileage on the complex new powertrains. This may suggest that Lotus has chosen to make this decision for something other than solid technical reasons, unless there has been a major delay in the car’s design, build or crash testing.
Obviously, rumors will start to rumble about budgets and resources but, whatever the reason this is a blow for the team’s preparations for the first race.