Lotus Racing sucking air, another Red Bull in the making?

You have to admit that Lotus Racing has some serious plans. The announcement of a new wind tunnel being built at the Anglo-Malaysian squad’s Hingham (UK) base is a real move in the right direction if you are wanting to take your racing efforts seriously.

As a rookie team in F1 this year, Lotus Racing has been the best of the 2010 new teams. With drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli and technical director Mike Gascoyne, the affable leader Tony Fernandes (AirAsia fame) has pulled all the stops to make a serious effort at recreating what Red Bull has accomplished. Tony said:

“Just over a year ago there were four people in the factory in Hingham, a team working in Cologne on the design of this year’s car, and a third group working in Italy on our aero programme. We have reached where we are today because of the hard work all of those people, and those who have joined us since, put in in the early days, and I want to thank them for helping us get to where we are today. Now it is about the future, and today’s announcement shows just how serious we are about taking the next crucial step in the continuing development of both Lotus Racing and Team AirAsia. My fellow shareholders Din, Nasa and I see the expansion of our base as not only the very best home for both teams, but also as the inspiration for future talent from around the world to follow their dreams and join us to compete at the highest level. One day very soon, we see our cars in Formula One™ and GP2 being designed, built and raced by teams of people from Malaysia, Europe, South East Asia and from around the world. This is a very exciting time for our teams, and the dream is growing bigger every single day.”

If you pause for reflection, you can honestly suggest that the last three years have been about the privateer. Yes, while teamed with Mercedes engines, McLaren is still technically a privateer and coupled with their title, Bran GP’s title and the resilient success of Red Bull this year, one has to admit that the manufacturers have been struggling of late.

It is important to make a distinction however because teams such as Williams F1 are also privateers who have not done well for the better part of a decade. Toro Rosso has not faired well along with Sauber this year either. The difference between these teams and McLaren and Red Bull and Brawn GP? Money…simple as that.

Privateers who want to make a serious run at the oft-chided manufacturers and their limitless spending can do so but it does take a different level of commitment both financially and personally. Red Bull’s cash is one thing but it’s designer, Adrian Newey, was a real steal from McLaren and has enabled the team to advance to levels their cash alone would not have gotten them.

The amount of cash Lotus Racing are now putting in place with a wind tunnel, Renault engine supply, Red Bull transmission and gearbox supply and a new outlook for the future as Team Lotus (barring legal issues) signals their intent to take this F1 thing very seriously. Can it work? It most certainly can but there are key players that need to be in place for it to do so. Namely drivers and team personnel. As for design? Well, many have suggested the brilliance of Mike Gascoyne and he has never stayed long enough at a team to prove his worth but we may find out now just how Newey-like brilliant he is. Gascoyne said:

“To compete at the highest level in Formula One™ it is important to have all of the key elements involved in the design, manufacturing, testing and development of our cars under our direct control and on the same site. Today’s announcement about the wind tunnel, which will be combined with additional production, office and administrative elements, gives us both the facility we need to lay the foundations for long-term success and is a clear sign that we are very serious about competing at the sharp end of the grid as quickly as we can.

“We have already achieved a phenomenal rate of growth for the team, and now have all the main functions in place to take the next step up, but I think it is important to also see that we are using our budget effectively, and focusing expenditure where it counts. Investing in our own wind-tunnel, to work alongside our substantial in-house CFD facility, is a key element in establishing complete control of one of the most important aspects of the design and manufacturing process in our sport, and it is clear to see that this sort of investment points towards a very bright future for the team.”

Growth is not always the best thing for any business. Not if you don’t know what you are growing too. Remaining small and flexible has its benefits and I surmise outsourcing the wind tunnel duties may have been a better option in the short term. There are limitation to outsourcing and I am sure they want to avoid those pitfalls. We should see in time if Lotus has the right method for creating a winning team just like its name-sake. I have every reason to believe Fernandes will but it will cost him dearly.

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