The Lotus Renault GP team was unable to maintain its run of podium finishes for the third successive grand prix after managing only ninth place in round three in Shanghai.
After a difficult qualifying session which saw Vitaly Petrov grind to a halt at the end of the second phase and compromise team-mate Nick Heidfeld's attempt at a flying lap, leaving them tenth and 16th on the starting grid, the Enstone team had hopes of being able to use the straight-line speed of the R31 to get both drivers into the points. However, with a lack of incident at the front of the field, and the midfield proving more competitive than anticipated, both drivers found it hard to make up ground.
Petrov started the race on the softer compound Pirellis, took another set on lap 17 and then made the mandatory switch to the harder rubber on lap 37, but struggled to make inroads deeper into the points as faster drivers emerged from pack and left him more or les where he started, taking ninth at the flag.
“To be P9 and take two points for the team is still good, given that we did not qualify in high positions, but we are still a bit disappointed that we did not challenge higher up the order and gain even more points," the Russian sighed, "The strategy was okay, but we must now see where we can improve. We will analyse the data and see what went wrong, and we will try to repeat the results we had in Australia and Malaysia when we reach Turkey.”
"Vitaly didn't make a great start and he was stuck in traffic during his first stint," chief engineer Alan Permane added, "At that point, we were thinking about whether to do two or three stops but, when he finally found some clean air, his pace looked reasonable and we decided it was best to do two stops. However, he struggled for pace on the soft tyres during his middle stint...."
Heidfeld also followed a two-stop strategy, despite starting deeper in the field, saving his harder tyres for a 26-lap run to the finish. A good start allowed him to make early places, but being unable to jump his rivals in the pits, left him mired in traffic and, with the added handicap of an ailing KERS system, he missed the points altogether.
“I'm not happy with where I finished, even though I started P16," he said of his eventual twelfth place, "The start was very poor, but I went aggressive into the first corner and made up a few places.
"After a few laps, I started having problems with the KERS and couldn't use the full power all the time, which made overtaking and defending quite difficult. I think our pace in the second stint on the soft tyre was not too bad, but it was still hard to attack the cars ahead of me. That's why we made an early stop for hard tyres in the hope that we could get some clean air and jump the cars ahead of me. Unfortunately, Perez and Sutil stopped on the same lap, and it meant I couldn't really show our pace in the final stint.”
The frustration was highlighted when it emerged that the R31 had the fastest straight-line speed, with Heidfeld clocking 322.6km/h and Petrov 322.5 km/h, and team boss Eric Boullier admitted that he had expected passing to be simpler with the car's full potential.
“Starting where we did, it was always going to be difficult to repeat the results we have had already this season, but, in the end, it turned out to be quite a frustrating afternoon for us and we didn't really make the progress we expected in the race," he conceded, "Part of the reason was that overtaking was not as easy as we thought it would be, even with the DRS.
"We need to review our strategy because it wasn't easy to make the calls today and it's clear you need to switch tyres at exactly the right moment. Still, it's good to pick up more points with Vitaly and we now have three weeks to regroup before Turkey to make sure we can be fighting closer to the front.”