Lotus F1 technical director Nick Chester believes that next weekend's Monaco Grand prix could prove to be a major turning point for a team slowly improving after a disastrous start to 2014.
While the likes of Red Bull and McLaren found themselves further from the pace than they would have wanted over the first few races of the new season, Lotus' hopes were dashed more heavily as its E22 struggled with both car and engine concerns. In the past couple of races, however, the black-and-gold machine has been moving up the order and the Enstone team was boosted further by a strong showing in this week's Barcelona group test. Chester, however, reckons that the true barometer of its improvement could come in the Principality next weekend.
“Monaco is a bit of a strange place - a one off - so it's always dangerous to assume your car will be good there, but I think it will suit the E22 and we should go fairly well,” he said confidently, “We'll also be bringing some specific parts aimed at giving us more downforce at what is the highest downforce track of the year. Other new parts will help tune the car for the bumpy and low speed track characteristics. The parts we've tested so far look good and we'll also have a new fuel from Total which should further improve power and driveability.”
Pastor Maldonado's performance in testing – in contrast to his recent race weekend showings – pushed the E22 to the top of the times and provided great encouragement for those who have been toiling since Jerez to bring last year's race-winning squad back to top ten relevance.
With Romain Grosjean finally putting the team on the scoreboard in Spain last weekend, Chester believes that Lotus should be a contender for points here on in.
“It was really good to get some points on the board - we always said we'd be back competing close to the front by Barcelona, but it's easier said than done!” he admitted, “Romain would have been even quicker in the race without an issue with a sensor on the power unit.
“Renault Sport F1 have done a lot of work on mapping, so the power unit is starting to perform a lot better and, on the chassis side, there have been the aerodynamic improvements, which have brought more downforce and made the car more driveable. We've also improved through general set-up as well. We are still missing some straight-line speed, but we're improving in that area too.
“There is quite a lot to come. Everyone is developing their cars pretty heavily at the moment and the power unit manufacturers are obviously on a much steeper curve than they were with the old V8s, so they are finding performance at a good rate. F1 cars are going to get significantly quicker during this year.”
As he expects his rivals to, Chester confirmed that there were some Monaco-specific developments in the pipeline for next weekend.
“There's quite a lot for Monaco, including the usual 'one-off' aerodynamic package for maximum downforce, which will not be used at other circuits because it is quite 'draggy',” he revealed, “There will also be a small modification to the cooling system and there are other aerodynamic developments aimed at making the car more stable.
“You can [use testing to] prepare in the sense of finding a general performance improvement, such as more downforce, but in terms of a really detailed set-up, we know we'll have to change that for Monaco.”