While the last few months in Formula One may have seen BMW and Toyota bidding goodbye to the series, the return of one of the most famous team names in the sport's history has given motor racing a boost despite the departures. Lotus last appeared on the grid for a Grand Prix in Australia in November 1994, with financial woes meaning the team disappeared off the radar after that event with retirements for Alex Zanardi and Mika Salo in the race in Adelaide ensuring the team went out with a whimper rather than a blaze of glory.
This was a team which won drivers and constructors' titles in their pomp, with Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti all taking titles, while the likes of Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen all made their mark in the sport with the team. But after 15 years away the name of Lotus is back thanks to Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes and technical director Mike Gascoyne. But just how will they do on their comeback in Formula One?
It took the team three years to win a race when they first entered the sport in 1958, but they will be doing very well if they get even close to that this time. They are not the only debutants in the series this year with Campos Meta, Virgin Racing and US F1 also lining up, but given the heritage and tradition of the team name, a lot of eyes will be on Lotus come the opening race in Bahrain on March 14 to see just where they stand in the pecking order.
With the current regulations on testing, it will not be until the end of next month when we will have a fair idea of the pace of the first car designed by Gascoyne and his technical team. The Englishman certainly has a record for finding magic among previously uncompetitive cars. His arrival sparked the best years for Jordan as they won for the first time in 1998 and were third in the 1999 championship.
Then at Benetton his new design in 2001 proved the catalyst to lift the car from the back of the grid to being race winners by 2003, while the best years of Toyota's ill-fated period in the sport came when he was the man leading their technical push, when they achieved 88 points and fourth in the constructors' table. With the new regulations, which include a ban on re-fuelling as well as limitations on technical upgrades, it means that if Gascoyne and his team get the car design right, there is no reason why they cannot have one of the best debut seasons seen for some time.
Technically Brawn GP were a new team last year as they won the drivers and constructors' honours, but that team was formed from the remains of the Honda pull out and the 2009 car had already been drawn up and designed. Now if Lotus do anything close to what Ross Brawn's team did then that would be an astonishing feat. But Gascoyne is a realist and points finishes and maybe a podium or two will be as far as his horizon stretches for now.
In Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen the team have two proven middle-of-the-road drivers, who on their day are both capable of great things. Trulli is a qualifying specialist, capable of doing wonders over one lap, and with the new qualifying regulations allowing for low fuel in all three sessions it would not be a surprise if he is puts Lotus high up on the grid at some races. Kovalainen's reputation is in need of restoring after a poor final year at McLaren in which he was truly put in the shade by Lewis Hamilton.
Both men have won races and have points to prove and with Gascoyne in control technically it will not be a surprise if Lotus do pull off a shock or two in the next 12 months. @Email:email@example.com