Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi has conceded that there is no point speculating whether the Enstone squad can return to the front of the F1 field until it achieves its first aim of scoring points.
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado have gone scoreless through the first three rounds of the 2014 world championship – a far cry from the 60 points and a race win that Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen had racked up a year ago. With Bahrain and China – this weekend's venue – reversed on the 2013 schedule, the team would also enjoy one of its most successful weekends with a double podium in Sakhir in round four, but even reaching the top ten appears to be a challenge one year on.
Although Grosjean was classified eleventh in Malaysia, Lotus has posted three retirements in six starts so far in 2014, and appears worst hit by the problems suffered by all Renault engine users, as its E22's own failings continue to be addressed. Both cars went the distance in Bahrain, but Gastaldi insists that the team needs to make small steps before setting its sights on a return to the big time.
“We are a race team so we are here to win, but we are also realistic,” he acknowledged, “It would be fantastic to think that we could make a major step forward and fight at the sharp end, but it's too early in the season to talk about where we will be at the end of the year. Our first step is to get our cars in the points. Once we're in the points, we'll be hungry to make further steps quickly. “There has obviously been a performance improvement since the start of the season and there are good positives for the future and our development. Both cars ran without reliability issues to finish the Bahrain Grand Prix and, but for an incident, Pastor should have been in the points. That was a positive in relation to how we started the year. There is still a lot of work to do, however, and we have many new parts for the car and a lot of performance to be found.”
As with a lot of teams, Lotus has targeted the Spanish Grand Prix in early May for the first major upgrade of its car, and Gastaldi is confident that his squad will keep fighting to return Lotus to the front.
“We're all pushing for good improvements at every race, but it's no secret that both us and our power unit partners, Renault Sport F1, have a lot planned for the start of the European season in Barcelona,” he confirmed, “From our perspective, we have many, many new parts to test on the car, so reliability is key to be able to test and develop these parts. No one is happy with where we are performance-wise at the moment and there's no question of any of us accepting this status quo
. We're all pushing hard to be faster and we will do this together.
“Everyone in the team is working very hard so, of course, it's been frustrating not to get the rewards everyone deserves. But we are all natural fighters. The response internally to our start to the year has been incredibly positive. Everyone keeps smiling and keeps focused on the task at hand, so it's been a big 'thumbs-up' in terms of motivation for the challenge ahead. This attitude gives us a real positive vibe. We know the task and we are motivated to get where we want to be. We will keep pushing relentlessly.
“I knew from my past role at the team just how dedicated everyone is, but now I'm more closely involved at all the races I must say I've been amazed at the intensity of this attitude. We've all been working like crazy since Australia, day and night, to make things happen."