Team Lotus has vowed that there is 'a lot more to come' from the T128 following a 'difficult' first day of practice for this weekend's F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, with a crash for Karun Chandhok, a variety of technical gremlins and problems in getting the optimum performance out of the Pirelli tyres limiting the team's running and frustratingly stymying progress.
Having shown encouraging potential with its new car during pre-season testing – threatening the established midfield contenders for pace on more than one occasion – that promise suddenly seemed to evaporate on the opening day Down Under, with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli completing proceedings respectively just 20th and 21st on the timesheets, almost five full seconds shy of the benchmark and one-and-a-half seconds adrift of the driver directly in front of them.
The tone for the day was in truth set when recently-confirmed test and reserve driver Chandhok managed a mere three corners of the Albert Park Street Circuit in FP1 before losing control on cold tyres and dumping Trulli's car heftily into the Turn Four barriers, necessitating quite a repair job. To say that the likeable Indian was mortified at his embarrassing error would be something of an understatement.
“I'm obviously disappointed to have had such a short run for my first time in the Team Lotus car, but I put my hands up to it and totally accept it was a combination of a slippery track and less grip than I expected from the tyres that combined to put me out so early,” the 27-year-old reflected. “I'm just pleased the guys could get Jarno out in the afternoon session, and it shows what a great team this is that they could get the car fixed that quickly to ensure Jarno could get a decent number of laps under his belt in FP2.”
Trulli himself echoed those sentiments, although both he and Kovalainen acknowledged that a number of factors outside of their control had conspired to make life far from easy for them.
“The team worked really well to get the car ready for the afternoon session,” remarked the Italian, “but we struggled a bit with a few issues that meant I couldn't really push. We'll work tonight on set-up options, and there are definitely some areas to look at where we can find some pace, so I think tomorrow we'll be ok.”
“It was one of those days,” added a phlegmatic Kovalainen. “We had a couple of problems that the guys worked hard to resolve, and once we had got through the issues we managed to complete most of the programme, so we have some good data to work through tonight. There is obviously more pace to come from the car, so let's see what happens tomorrow.”
On the positive side, Renault Sport F1 support leader Thierry Salvi reported 'encouraging' feedback on the engine front following the completion of a number of tests left outstanding from the pre-season – and whilst recognising that it was not the start to the campaign that they had either wanted or anticipated, Team Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne and team principal Tony Fernandes were keen to stress the positives.
“A difficult first day in Australia, although we managed to complete some good work at the end of FP2,” stated the Englishman. “At the start of FP1, Karun was caught out by the slippery conditions and made a mistake which unfortunately curtailed his running. In the second session, we had a fuel pressure problem on Jarno's car and an electronics issue on Heikki's car, both of which limited our running, but we were able to solve those issues and work through most of the afternoon's plan.