There is no question that Lotus were be the happiest team that left Australia on Sunday night and will be extremely confident going into the next few races.
The team’s superior tyre management compared to any of the other top teams was the single biggest factor in Kimi Raikkonen’s drive to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
That’s not to say that was the only reason Raikkonen won the race – he was running with the leaders all the way through the first two stints and the E21 had the pace to challenge for the win on merit – but had Lotus not been able to keep their tyres working on a two-stop strategy, it’s quite likely that Raikkonen would have had to settle for second behind the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.
However, the fact that Lotus did make the tyres last over a two-stop race, especially with tyre management set to be a crucial factor over the first half of the season, means that they could well be considered the early favourites for the title, and with good reason.
If the team can consistently get away with making one less stop than its rivals, it doesn’t matter if their car isn’t the fastest. With an extra visit to the pits costing on average around 20 seconds, it means that as long as Lotus can run within a couple of tenths of the quickest driver on the track, they will be in a position to compete for victory.
With it taking on average near to half a season over the last two years for all the teams to get a proper understanding of the Pirelli tyres, there is a great opportunity for Raikkonen to take several more wins over the next few races, and if Romain Grosjean can start to deliver the goods as well it will put Lotus in a great position to challenge for not only the drivers’ championship, but the constructors’ title as well. For a team that has tasted remarkably little success since the Fernando Alonso-Renault era of 2005 and 2006, this presents a fantastic opportunity for the Enstone team to put themselves back on the top step of the podium.
There are other reasons for Lotus to be confident as well. Whilst having an extremely fast car over a race distance last year, the team’s Achilles heel came with the car’s inability to perform well in colder temperatures. Raikkonen’s victory at a chilly Melbourne not only indicates that Lotus have sorted out their issues in far from ideal temperatures, but also if similar progress has been made when Formula One heads to warmer climbs, they could well have the strongest package of anyone in race trim.
Of course, the issue over the team’s qualifying performances remain, with both Raikkonen and Grosjean managing no higher than the fourth row of the grid in Australia, but given the highly disrupted nature of that session and the fact that dry tyres were only fitted to the cars in the dying minutes of Q3, it will take a couple of races until we know for sure where Lotus stand in qualifying. However, it has certainly looked from testing and the dry practice sessions in Melbourne as though the team is lacking in this area compared to the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes.
These qualifying issues should not be much of an issue over the next few races, with Malaysia, China and Bahrain all circuits that offer good opportunities to overtake, meaning that as long as Lotus can put themselves somewhere around the top five on a Saturday, they will have a chance of competing on the Sunday.
Taking the team’s superior tyre management into account and adding in the strength of Raikkonen, the potential of Grosjean as well as the team’s improved pace in colder weather, if Lotus can develop at a similar rate to its rivals and improve their car over a single lap, there is no reason why they can’t win both championships for the first time in seven years.
And with Raikkonen at 7/2 in the betting stakes to become a double world champion this year, and Lotus a generous 7/1 in the odds for the constructors’ title, that could well prove to be a shrewd punt come the end of the year.