Most leading teams approach the closing races of any F1 season trying to juggle the development of both the current and following seasons' cars, but Lotus is making life extra difficult for itself by also looking a little further ahead.
With a new set of regulations heading the top flight's way in 2014, particularly on the engine front, technical director James Allison has revealed that Lotus is also looking that direction as its prepares for the final four grands prix on 2012, starting with this weekend's trip to India. However, with Kimi Raikkonen still in with an outside shot of landing this year's world title, and the entire Lotus team chasing the race win that its performances over the season have suggested cannot be far away, there will be no stinting on 2012 development, or that already underway on the successor to the E20.
"This question comes up a lot at the tail end of the season and, in a normal year, the answer would be that the focus has pretty much shifted to next year's car already," Allison admitted, "This is not a normal year though.
"Every team on the grid is facing the unprecedented challenge of working simultaneously on three cars. Firstly, the rules for 2013 are relatively unchanged which, combined with the quite tight grid, means that there is still merit in developing the 2012 car, even this late in the season. Secondly, the looming shadow of the 2014 regulations demands our attention. Anyone who followed the sport in 2009 will know that a large shake-up in the regulations presents both opportunity and hazard, which can significantly re-jig the traditional pecking order of the teams - and the regulatory revolution for 2014 makes the 2009 changes look trivial by comparison.
"Choices have to be made with three babies competing for development food. Do you put resources into the E20 and get as much out of it as possible, or is it more prudent to make the most of what will be 'the last hurrah' for this generation of rules in 2013? Alternatively, is it right to focus more on the longer term future with the 2014 rules that will form the basis of the next generation of F1 cars? It's a very finely balanced judgement and one that is a fascinating challenge. By the end of the 2014 season, we should know if we made the correct decisions...."
The ongoing development of the E20 may not have yielded a race debut for Lotus' 'device', the double DRS concept it has been attempting to bring to competition since the middle of the season, but did witness the introduction of the team's own coanda exhaust at the latest round in Korea.
"It was a solid debut for the coanda system and we will see both Kimi [Raikkonen] and Romain [Grosjean] using it in India," Allison confirmed, "We were reasonably pleased with how it performed on its first outing. We knew that our first implementation would be a little power hungry, but we hoped for – and were delighted to register on the track – a good downforce boost. Our initial design was already a step forward relative to the previous system, but we expect more from this package as we modify the exhaust to recover much of the lost power."
While the new exhaust provided positive results, however, Lotus was unable to move forward in the race, ultimately taking fifth and seventh places from similar positions on the grid.
"We finished the race in our starting positions, which was solid, if ultimately unspectacular," Allison admitted, "Kimi added more points to his tally and Romain achieved what we had asked of him by keeping his nose clean and bringing the car home to score valuable points for the team. We didn't set the world alight, but we got both cars home in the points and were notably more competitive than in recent races in terms of the gap to pole position."
The new front wing used by Grosjean in Korea will be available to both drivers in India this weekend, and Allison is hopeful of a more exciting race than last year's debut at Buddh International produced.
"Last year, it was the track with the most important racing line in the world, with any deviation from that line punished pretty severely as the surface was very dirty" he reflected, "This year, the circuit organisers have invested in impressive track cleaning equipment, the likes of which we see in Bahrain, so matters should be somewhat different. We've learnt that it's a pretty challenging circuit and a good test for both the car and driver with a bunch of nice corners. It's a typical modern F1 track and an interesting place to go racing...."