After a miserable 2014 season, Lotus appears back on track this year. Pastor Maldonado’s chart-topping time in the new Mercedes-powered E23 on Thursday would have been good enough to beat Lewis Hamilton to pole at the Spanish grand prix last year.
However, the Venezuelan was fitted with soft Pirelli tyres, while the almost-as-quick Ferrari also beat Hamilton’s pole-time — with hard tyres and reportedly more fuel.
“The new car is running really well,” Maldonado confirmed to the German press, “but we’re not good enough yet.”
As for the difference between the troubled Renault engine of last year and the new Mercedes V6, Maldonado insisted: “It’s just too early to make a statement. But it is nice to see my name at the top.
“We are still learning with the Mercedes engine, but we are making rapid progress. Where will we end up? Who knows,” he added.
More willing to predict a much better year for Lotus have been teammate Romain Grosjean and team owner Gerard Lopez. And now team boss Federico Gastaldi has followed suit.
“It might seem daring,” he admitted to Brazil’s Globo, “but I see the potential in the project for this year to be targeting the top places, as we did in 2012 and 2013.”
Gastaldi admitted that the “aerodynamic problems” with the 2014 car were “realised too late”, while Lotus also suffered “many problems” with the Renault engine.
“Everyone who worked with Renault faced serious difficulties,” he said. “I remember practice at Monaco, Pastor left the pits and stopped on the track because of the power unit. At that moment we decided we needed to change our supplier.”
“We started talking to Mercedes that weekend and were very pleased to find that it was possible to use their power unit. We also found that the cost was much lower than the Renault, which we didn’t know before,” Gastaldi added.
At the same time, however, Lotus was reeling from the departures of key figures, including James Allison and Dirk de Beer, who both fled to Ferrari. “But the other engineers stayed,” Gastaldi insisted.
“Allison never worked alone! It is this very group, now coordinated by another capable engineer, Nick Chester, who produced the good car that we have now.”
And he denied there are problems on the driver side, as Lotus has not won a race since Kimi Raikkonen also fled to Ferrari.
“Pastor (Maldonado) has won a race,” Gastaldi pointed out. “And we know that Romain (Grosjean) is another driver who will fight for wins with a good car, that is for sure. He has matured a lot.”