The launch of the new Lotus Grand Prix car in London last week got me thinking. At last something has – I haven’t been inspired to put pen to blog in recent weeks.
Launches of new racing cars fall into two main categories – the absurdly lavish with dry ice, awful music and dancing girls. Or the nicely businesslike (as in Williams every year) where the car is the star and you have a gut feeling about its prospects.
The unveiling of the new Lotus fell into the latter category. Well, OK, it was a little bit glitzy but not absurdly so.
The Lotus-Cosworth T127 is a great-looking racing car, at least as far as is possible in the modern era. And great-looking racing cars are often quick racing cars. Not always, granted, but if they look right, then they invariably are right. Of course, looks are a subjective thing, but I like what Mike Gascoyne has done with his first car for the Malaysian version of the old Team Lotus.
The colour scheme is terrific – enough green and yellow to acknowledge its heritage without being a ghastly pastiche of the real thing. Clean, simple lines and a purposeful feel about the ‘package’, as it’s known these days. I am a fan of Gascoyne and his work. I’m aware that a great many people find him difficult, rather too bullish, but I find his attitude acceptable in a world that is so often pasteurised, homogenised and corporately correct. I believe, also, that he has built some good cars which, given a bit more development, could have been great. We know that looks are not everything, but somehow the T127 gets off on the right foot even when it’s standing still.
In the highly complex world of aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering that pervades modern Grand Prix racing the tiniest pieces of bodywork can take a car to the front of the grid or leave it languishing at the back. So we will have to wait a couple of months before we know whether Gascoyne has got this one right. The hard work begins now, in Jerez, and the big test will be in Bahrain and beyond. There will be problems, there will be frustrations, but a man of Jarno Trulli’s experience will know, pretty much as soon as he leaves the pitlane, how effective the new Lotus will be.
One of the most important things a Grand Prix car has to do is combine speed through the air with grip in the corners. That sounds obvious, but it’s a fine balance, a sweet spot that eludes even the best engineers.
In 2006, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I remember studying the Renault R26 in which Fernando Alonso had won his second World Championship. Nearby, Dan Gurney was doing a TV interview, during which he observed that – were he a piece of air – then this was the car he’d most like to drive through him. We knew what he meant. Tim Densham’s car looked right straight out of the box and, developed by Densham/Bell and Symonds, it wafted Alonso to a second consecutive title.
Of course, we can also think of great-looking F1 cars that failed to live up to their looks. For various and very different reasons, Dan Gurney’s beautiful Eagle and the gorgeous Brabham BT45 did not translate beauty into winning. There are always exceptions. But consider the cars of Gordon Murray, surely the most visually stunning of the modern era. They looked right, they were right, and they won a great many races. And yes, I know, there were exceptions even then.
I wish Lotus well. We all know it’s not the “real thing” but it’s a good name to have on the grid and my instinct is that it will be the best of the new teams as the season unfolds.