DUBAI // Lotus owner Gerard Lopez is confident his Formula One team can recover from a ruinous start to the season in Melbourne last week, although he warned it could take up to four races before their cars are running to their full potential.
The Luxembourg-born businessman appointed himself team principal following the departure of Eric Boullier during the off-season, but having watched Lotus struggle in testing, he then saw the team's two Renault-powered cars fail to finish the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
“We got caught on the back-foot,” Lopez said. “The first race was like a half-length testing session for us.
“The car is nowhere near where it should be and yet, even then, had we finished the race with an adequate performance level, we could have been top 10. That is not catastrophic, but it is also not where we want to be.”
More difficult times lie ahead as Lotus await Renault solving the engine issues that have hampered several F1 teams’ development this year.
Lopez is confident his team can turn it around and expects to be back fighting for podiums by the time the F1 fraternity touch down in Europe for the first time this season, at the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11. That means lowered expectations in Malaysia, Bahrain and then China.
“The big one for everybody is Barcelona,” he said. “We already have a new rear wing, new front wing and new floor for this weekend’s race in Malaysia, so we are pushing, but we must be cautious too.
It’s a bit odd to be improving on a car that is yet to show its full potential, but any huge things will happen around Barcelona and when they happen we want to be exactly where we want to be, rather than trying to get there.
“We don’t want to be left behind. By Barcelona, we must be absolutely performing.”
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Lopez, speaking in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa as Lotus announced an extension to its deal with Dubai-based sponsor Emaar, said he had not been surprised by his marque’s poor start.
The Oxford-based outfit finished last season strongly, with Romain Grosjean taking podiums at four of the final six races.
A regulations overhaul and a switch from V8 to V6 engines has left teams fighting the clock to find optimum performance in time to race.
“Like everyone else, we had a major switch in technology and engines this year,” Lopez said. “At the next two races, we will do everything we can to do a good performance, but we are also very cautious about what to expect.
“We have yet to do a full race distance. We will first try to finish, then score points, then score podiums. We know the car is competitive, so as soon as the engine is ready we should be back to where we believe we should be. We are definitely still looking to take podiums eventually, but we appreciate it could take some time.”
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