Lotus Renault GP's technical boss James Allison has labeled their 2011 challenger a "bold failure" in retrospect. Sure, hindsight is always 20/20 but what appeared to be a promisign start with two podium finishes, ended in an epic failure begetting an serious tongue-lashing from current driver Vitaly Petrov:
"Unfortunately I cannot say anything bad about the team, it says so in my contract," Petrov told Russian television.
"But many things have already been written about in the media.
"People say the team criticised the drivers. But excuse me; read my interviews, I haven't criticised the team despite what we have lost so many times. How much have we missed at pitstops? With strategy?
"We have lost positions in about 10 races or even more. Even without a fast car we could have gained good points, we could have finished with points if we had had a good strategy.
"But I couldn't say in interviews that we lost it with the pitstops, and I cannot talk about that now either. But I can't keep silent any more - it is over. I can't keep everything inside any more."
While the Russian driver has apologised to the team for his criticism and the team seem to accepting of his apology, it's a little difficult to fault Petrov when your own technical boss labels the project a failure. Reuters has the story:
"I regard it as a bold, but ultimately failed experiment," he said when asked about the R31 car in a team preview for next week's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
"We were the only team to adopt a forward exhaust layout, and we did so with high hopes, buoyed by very strong wind tunnel numbers.
"We came out of the blocks adequately well, although it was clear from the first test that the delivered downforce was not as high as we had expected. The season which followed has been difficult for everyone at Enstone.
"The layout which had promised so much and which, had it delivered, would have been almost impossible to copy, proved very tricky to develop and had a fundamental weakness in slow corners that has been an albatross around our neck all year."
The albatross has seen the departure of stand-in driver Nick Heidfeld and the working end of Brazilian Bruno Senna who both couldn't come to grips with such a contumacious car. Petrov struggled mightily in Abu Dhabia nd one wonders if even recovering rally-crash driver Robert Kubica could have manhandled the chassis to more success given Allison's description.
In the end, they learned a lot. They took a gamble and it didn't work. That kind of thinking is not new in Formula One as McLaren can tell you with their mp4-18 which was still-born and never raced in anger leaving the team fussing about with an evolution of the MP4-17D. Lotus Renault GP has the graciousness to admit they rolled the bones and crapped out but what they may not have is teh luxury of continually taking gambles on exotic design.
The team is owned by a ventrue capital group and not a large manufacturer. Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren International can all afford the risk but I suspect Lotus Renault GP cannot if you believe the money struggle rumors that permeated the season that was 2011.
The question now is, what car do they build for 2012, who do they build it for (as there is no sign of Robert Kubica testing or coming back as of this moment) and the main driver you have is completely flummoxed by the teams direction. There are some brilliant people at work in the team and they do know what they're doing. Brilliant minds working hard and taking pride in their output.
The team have come a long way from being owned by Renault, being caught in race-fixing (crashgate Singapore 2008), losing all their key top executives such as Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds and most of their sponsors. You can't expect much from a team that has this kind of shock. There was even a suicide by an employee at the headquarters a few years ago. This is tragic circumstances and the team have been brilliantly resilient through it all.
They rolled the dice and it didn't work in 2011 but let us all hope they remain resolute in making a car that is competitive and yet not quite as "adventurous" in 2012. Lotus Renault GP want to win and 2012 was supposed to the that year with Kubica leading the charge. In 2012, they need a stable, respectable performance that can steal a few podiums when the time is right and they need some grounding from all the tumult.
No one expects them to make a leap from where they are now to winning the title in 2012 and if they can do it, then good for them but perhaps prudence is a better strategy and patient building upon a solid design and solid driver lineup will reap bigger rewards over the next two years in which they can build.