Lotus and Virgin hit the test track

The Virgin and Lotus teams showed that they mean business when they joined the established runners for testing at Jerez in February.

Inevitably both suffered teething problems and languished at the bottom of the times. But the fact that they made it at all was testimony to the hard work done by the commercial and technical staffs of the two British-based teams. The professional appearance of both outfits was put into proper perspective by the ongoing uncertainty over the Campos Meta and USF1 projects.

After receiving entry confirmation from the FIA only last September Lotus shook down the metallic green T127 at Silverstone on February 9, prior to a launch in London three days later. Hazel and Clive Chapman, Sir Stirling Moss and Nigel Mansell were among those who have played a part in the Lotus story who attended the event. Team principal Tony Fernandes thanked the Chapman family for their moral support, and made it clear that he has huge respect for the heritage of the name.

Lotus Racing technical chief and motivating force Mike Gascoyne has made good use of his contacts book. Like his previous teams, Lotus is using Jean-Claude Migeot’s Aerolab wind tunnel in Italy for its aero work. And even before the FIA confirmation Gascoyne had some of his former Toyota colleagues hard at work at a drawing office in Cologne.

When the Japanese manufacturer subsequently announced its withdrawal, Gascoyne was able to headhunt other key players. Former Toyota chief engineer Dieter Gass is his deputy technical director, while the two race engineers and two data engineers have also headed straight to Norfolk from Germany.

“We’ve probably got 20 people from Toyota and there are more coming,” said Gascoyne. “One thing about us is that everybody is experienced. The race team has got a lot of good guys from teams that have been downsizing. We’re not a new team in terms of the people working for us.”

The crew’s collective knowledge proved useful in Jerez, where there was much troubleshooting to be done. The car suffered from hydraulic problems and a broken exhaust, while almost a day of track time was lost when Heikki Kovalainen crashed and damaged the only available front wing. However, on the fourth day Jarno Trulli completed an impressive 141 laps.

Virgin made its debut at Jerez a week before Lotus. The team also lost a lot of precious time with a front wing problem, although in this case it fell off of its own accord, a failure that led to a major rethink. The real Achilles heel was a hydraulic leak, and while the problem was pinpointed it could not be fully rectified in Spain, so the car could not run long stints between pit visits.

Given the lack of time available the two new teams expect to be racing only each other, at least in the first half of the season. “It’s going to be our target, to race with them and be ahead of them,” Kovalainen told Motor Sport.

“I think it’s achievable. It’s difficult to read into testing times, but both teams have started from zero. I don’t want to expect too much from such a short time, and we will be able to make improvements, but it will take time. That’s the way it is. Hopefully when the performance is increasing, then we can raise the bar.” Adam Cooper