Eric Boullier contends that Lotus Renault GP is 'not very far away at all' from regularly being able to take the fight to closest rival Mercedes Grand Prix in F1 2011, stressing that consistency is all the team is now lacking and confident that this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix will play very much to the R31's strengths.

Boullier admitted to a mixture of frustration and satisfaction in Barcelona last weekend, as Vitaly Petrov failed to convert his impressive qualifying effort into a similarly strong race day finish, but team-mate Nick Heidfeld conversely stormed his way through the field from the very back of the grid to eighth at the chequered flag.

Indeed, given just one lap more in the Spanish Grand Prix, and the experienced German would almost certainly have found his way past the two Mercedes' of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg - and crossing the line right in their wheel tracks is arguably somewhat emblematic of Lotus Renault GP's position right now.

The Enstone-based outfit's French managing director hopes that around the narrow, tortuous streets of Monte Carlo - where Renault has invariably enjoyed success in F1 of late - the tables could just be turned.

"We're not very far away at all," Boullier underlined. "Our car seems to be fast; we just still need to find some consistency in our way of creating successful strategies and, of course, pit-stops. If we do not miss any laps [in qualifying], we will get a good grid position for the race, and during the race itself it looks like our car can compete for the top six. Once we are all in-line together, we will be there.

"Monaco is one of the key races we have on the calendar, for historical reasons, for glamour reasons and even for sporting reasons because it's a very specific track. It's a very unique race on the calendar, which makes F1 magic. The Monaco weekend is like stopping breathing! We have a very busy weekend, with less sleep and lots of work to ensure we get the best we possibly can out of it.

"I'm confident we will do well - historically, [our] cars have been good in Monaco, and I think our car will be good there this time, too. The tyre strategies will be very complicated, but that could also work well for us so we will see how we get on.

"The track itself is so different to anything else you will see on the sport's calendar - it is twisting and turning, with very few chances to pass other cars. Not only that, but it evolves over the weekend - because of the fact that it is a public road normally - so we can expect to see cars improve their performance after Thursday. As a team, we can hardly wait for the weekend!"

Those sentiments are shared by Lotus Renault GP technical director James Allison, who has offered a fascinating insight into the challenges posed by the first real high-downforce race of the season.

"There won't be big changes to [the R31] for Monaco," the Englishman confirmed. "We will run a higher-downforce top rear wing, but the days of highly-specialised bodywork kits for Monaco are a bit behind us. Monaco is less power-sensitive and more downforce-sensitive than other circuits; however, the profit from this is not massive and the cost of producing Monaco-specific parts has to be carefully considered. In general, it is a better strategy to spend your aerodynamic resources attempting to produce improvements that benefit the widest possible range of circuits.

"The historically strong performance of our cars in Monaco and Hungary probably owes more to the bumpy nature of the tracks than to the downforce level in particular - our cars have tended to handle well over the bumps, and this gives the drivers confidence to push the car to its limits.

"Monaco always involves a few brushes with the Armco, though, and sometimes a bit of contact with other cars. Lotus Renault GP has historical information about the sort of loads put onto the suspension as a result of these minor incidents, and the strength required to withstand them is factored in when the suspension is designed at the start of the year.

"I'm not sure that qualifying will have added importance, but it will remain an important consideration. If the indications from free practice reveal that the tyres are hanging together in race trim, then the inherent difficulty of overtaking in Monaco will mean it is less crucial to conserve virgin tyres. If the tyres look critical in free practice, then there will be a very strong incentive to save sets for the race.

"We ran the super-soft during winter testing and, as you might expect, it offers grip gains over the soft tyre at the expense of increased wear and degradation rate. Monaco is less demanding on the tyres than the winter testing tracks, but I suspect it will still prove to be a stern test of the durability of the super-soft.

"All pit-stops carry with them the risk of substantial loss of time and track position as a result of errors. These errors can have a decisive effect on the outcome of a race. All the teams know this, and are all working hard to try to eliminate all sources of error. At Lotus Renault GP, we had a couple of poor races at the start of the year with our pit-stops. Since then, our crew has put in a lot of effort to bring us back to the correct level. The prime focus is to make repeatable stops first-and-foremost, before gradually chipping away at the stop times."



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