After a strong start to the 2011 F1 season, Lotus Renault GP will aim to keep up its momentum as the calendar heads to Europe by introducing its first major upgrade package in time for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix.
The Enstone-based squad sits fourth in the constructors' standings, behind the expected top three of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, with twice the number of points of nearest pursuer Mercedes after both Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld found the podium in the opening two rounds. Although Petrov was its only scorer, in ninth place, in China, team boss Eric Boullier is confident that the upgrade can keep Lotus Renault in the hunt at Istanbul Park.
"I think that historically the teams were preparing to introduce their development packages for Europe, but I think that, in the last couple of years, the development race is continuous and this competition has already started," Boullier reasoned, "Teams have already been bringing new packages in Malaysia and China, [but] the first race in Europe remains significant in terms of improvements that teams will bring and this will be clear again this year. We have a good upgrade package coming for Turkey.
"The first three races are always a challenge as we take the car straight out of the box to compete on the other side of the world. We had quite a satisfying campaign with two podiums in three races. Having said that, we encountered some disappointment in China, but we put our heads back down to try and analyse and come back from this. We have shown good competitiveness in this first leg, including in China. So we now are looking forward to the start of the European campaign. I know that our car is looking more competitive this year and our drivers like the [Istanbul Park] circuit, so we hope that it will be a good weekend for us. I think that they can do even better.
"During the last three races, they were still getting to know the car and they showed good pace and results. I'm pretty sure that they now have the near-to-victory taste in their mouths, so they need to keep on pushing. I know the team is absolutely 100 per cent behind both of them to help pushing them to deliver."
Technical director James Allison confirmed that the upgrade would cover several areas of the R31, which he acknowledged was already sufficiently fast to be top ten in qualifying.
"Overall, I'm pleased, but I tend just to remember the last race and that wasn't a very good one for us, so we're looking to put that right in Istanbul," he admitted, "Much of what went wrong for us came from failing to qualify in the position that the car merited. Not getting the car through into Q3 meant that we had to fight an uphill battle in the race. Furthermore, we didn't make quite such a good start as we had done during the previous two races and all of this combined with the result that we had to struggle through the race just to finish in the minor places.
"[The car] is fast to be healthily-placed in the top ten in qualifying, which gives you half a chance come Sunday. The car also quite kind on its tyres and so it tends to run more strongly in races than it does in qualifying. I don't want to tempt providence, but it has also been reasonably reliable so far.
"However, like all the teams, we'll be bringing some [new] parts [to Turkey]. There will be a different front wing, some modifications around the nose, updates to the air intake area of the car and some tweaks to the floor. Most of the parts would have been conceived around 6-8 weeks ago, would have run in the tunnel around four weeks ago and then designed and made for the car in time for the Turkey GP, and I would hope that we can continue compete at a high level."