The race result from Sunday’s Grand Prix in Bahrain will record a victory for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. It will show a return of pace for Felipe Massa and the hobbled results of a dominant Sebastian Vettel. There was a different kind of victory Sunday if you look a little farther back on the grid; Lotus Racing finished the race. Six months of very hard work finally came to as successful a conclusion as the team could have hoped for on Sunday afternoon in Bahrain, with both Lotus Racing cars finishing the race, Heikki in 15th and Jarno in 17th (provisional positions) in the opening round of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship.
â€œIâ€™m completely over the moon! I cannot describe the feeling. Six months of work and to have both cars finish is just unbelievable. Weâ€™re thrilled, weâ€™re happy and the spirit in the team is fantastic. Iâ€™m really proud of Jarno and of Heikki and everyone here. Itâ€™s a great start and better than I could have dreamt of. We wanted to finish the race and to do so ahead of established teams is fantastic.
â€œFrom here we keep going. Before the race Clive Chapman gave me Colin Chapmanâ€™s old Lotus cap and said â€˜when you win the first race youâ€™ll be the man to throw this up in the air like my Dad used to.â€™ That meant a lot to me, it was a wonderful gesture and itâ€™s like handing over the mantle of one of motor racingâ€™s great dynastiesâ€
If there is one thing that USF1, Virgin, HRT and Lotus Racing have taught us is that it is not easy to enter F1 on a limited budget and with limited resources. While Lotus Racing had precious little time to prepare for the 2010 season, so too did Virgin Racing and even littler time for HRT. The daunting task faced by Colin Colles was astounding and the simple fact that there was a car in Bahrain at all is a massive feat to be commended.
The Lotus Racing outcome is very special for many reasons and the least of which is to finish where others did not. To start with a baseline from which to develop. Technical Director Mike Gascoyne said:
â€œIâ€™m very very proud of the whole team. Everyone here, and back in Hingham. Firstly I have to say thank you to both drivers. They drove great races â€“ Jarno struggling early on but when he changed to the soft tyre he was much more competitive. Apologies to Heikki because he may have suffered from the strategy, and apologies to Jarno because he had a hydraulics problem and he had to slow down to get the car to the finish, but overall a great result.â€
Both Trulli and Kovalainen came to Lotus Racing via larger, more substantially funded teams and one could forgive them for being somewhat less than excited about finishing last but that isn’t really the case:
â€œI made a good start and avoided the accident at the second corner but found myself in the gravel so at this stage I was nearly last, but then I started picking up pace and catching the people in front. The car was understeering quite a lot and I couldnâ€™t really predict the balance so at the pitstop the team, who did a really good job, changed the front wing setting and I started pushing again and putting in some good laps. At the end of the race I had a hydraulic problem so I just had to get it to the end of the race. Iâ€™m really happy and proud for the team because in six months every single target we have fixed we have met so itâ€™s really good, and, as Tony said, one day Lotus will win and I hope to be here when we do.â€
â€œIt was a good race for our team – to get both cars to the finish is a great achievement. My car didnâ€™t have a single problem, I know Jarno did and managed to nurse his car to the end, but the primary goal was to get both cars to the end and we achieved that. So far the team has reached every goal we set ourselves so that is fantastic. In terms of my race, I had a good start and was battling with a lot of guys we didnâ€™t think weâ€™d be fighting with. My tyres were fine, and the pitstop was good, but I lost a bit of time whilst letting cars past, and weâ€™ll look at the strategy for Australia to work around that better. I really enjoyed driving the car, it felt really good and it was good to push. Everybody in the team should be really happy but now the honeymoon is over and we need to start working on better results.â€
The quest to the top starts with one small step and Sunday’s finish is much larger than a small step. Fernandes had told the team prior to the race:
â€œThe last six months have shown that if you dream you can achieve, but now itâ€™s not about being the best of the new teams, itâ€™s about making a serious challenge for the very top.â€
With aspirations high on the heels of the maiden voyage, Lotus Racing are in good spirit to move forward in F1. While many teams have tried and failed, Force India may be an example of how a small team can achieve success amid a limited budget and strong technical partnership. Lotus Racing is surely hoping to achieve the same and Sunday’s results have me feeling positive for their future.