Genii Capital CEO Gerard Lopez has targeted a top three championship position for the renamed Lotus F1 squad, despite coming off a 2011 campaign that tailed off dramatically in terms of results.
Pre-season testing had provided encouragement to the Enstone-based team in 2011, but the two podium finishes that followed in Australia and Malaysia proved to be a false dawn as the radical exhaust system on the R31 failed to live up to expectation, particularly on the tighter courses. The team, already denied the services of Robert Kubica following the Pole's rally accident, then dispensed with replacement Nick Heidfeld, replacing him with the less experienced Bruno Senna as team-mate to second year driver Vitaly Petrov.
As a result of its declining performance, Lotus Renault slipped back to fifth place in the constructors' standings, coming perilously close to being overhauled by Force India, prompting a clear-out in the driver department, and an early focus on 2012. The team owner, however, refuses to be bowed, however, and already has high hopes for the coming year.
“Last year, we started really well, but then we suffered a setback when we were forced to stop with our blown diffuser concept because of the uncertainty that surrounded the technology at the time - and, of course, with Robert being injured it was not an ideal year,” Lopez acknowledged in an interview with YallaF1, “We are not one of the big F1 teams, but we are the best privateer team and, with Kimi [Raikkonen] on board, our intentions are clear - we aim to challenge the top three. It is very tough to take them on because they have the resources and experience.”
Dispensing with both Petrov and Senna allowed the team, which will operate under the Lotus F1 banner in 2012, to bring in 2007 F1 world champion Raikkonen and GP)2 Series champion Romain Grosjean for the coming year, a combination Lopez expects to serve it well.
“I must say the interest since Kimi joined our team has been very surprising," he noted, "We knew he was popular, but not to this extent, and [we were] not expecting such a good response. From our side, of course, it is great to have him on board as he is a world champion who comes with vast experience and we all know he is fast. He is also a great guy.
“When we realised that, with Nick Heidfeld, who is a very good driver, we were not going to be better than fifth in the championship, we tried our best to help the young talent. As you know, we gave Bruno Senna a chance last year and also Vitaly Petrov, who we are still very close to.”
“We knew we had to have an experienced driver in the team, so we have Kimi, [but] Romain deserves his chance. Unfortunately, we are not like Red Bull, who have Toro Rosso to try young drivers without disrupting the main team. We decided to give Romain a chance because he has matured, he won the 2011 GP2 Series and we believe he is capable of doing a good job.”
Lotus is also not shying away from revolution in the design of its new car, with much having been made about a radical braking system it appears poised to run in testing, but Lopez insists that there is more to the car than that.
“From our side, it is not about a single element that makes a car fast, but the package - and, of course, we are working on having a strong package for the season,” he pointed out.
The identity of Lotus' third driver remains unclear, with several names having been put forward as potential candidates, including both Senna and Petrov. While they have also been linked to Williams and, in Petrov's case, both Marussia and Caterham, in recent weeks, other possibilities in the frame include Virgin outcast Jerome d'Ambrosio, who is managed by Lopez Gravity Sports' concern.