Team Lotus have this morning revealed a first look at their new car, with which they are destined to become a midfield runner in 2011. The car clearly underwent extensive development. It features an unconventional airbox, as well as sleek sidepods and a smaller monocoque.
Apart from showing the first images, the team also decided to rename the car again to T128, following the T127 of last year. Earlier it was announced to be named TL11 to avoid a naming conflict with Lotus Renault, but at the last moment Team Lotus decided to go for the heritage in the name.
The car's designers and team managers had the following chat about their new car:
Mike Gascyone (Chief Technical Officer): With last year’s car and especially the first half of the season it was just an exercise in survival, whereas from the middle of last year it was about building the team up – that’s when we started working on this car.
Marianne Hinson (Head of Aerodynamics): In aerodynamics, we’ll start thinking about a new car before any of the other departments, and we started looking at this car around Spring last year. We begin by sitting down with the new regulations because there’s almost always something new. Normally, you’d take the previous year’s car as a basis, talk about what engine and gearbox will be used and roughly what will need to be packaged inside the car, then move on to where the aerodynamic regulations have changed the most.
Lewis Butler (Chief Designer): In my role, I started looking at this car around June last year while I was working on iterations of the 2010 car.
Marianne: I have to say that the start of the process is a really fun period, when you’re looking through the new rules, thrashing out ideas and trying to find loopholes.
Elliot Dason-Barber (Head of R&D and Vehicle Dynamics): It’s a very complex process – take the front wing, for example. The Aero department would’ve started working on it during the middle of last year, trying to make it generate as much load as possible. Design will then focus on making it stiff enough so that it isn’t too flexible on track. Between them they’ll refine the design by going through a number of iterations. At the same time, I’ll start looking at the nose section and by crashing test pieces into a wall we can start to see if it’s a ‘little too stiff ’ or ‘not stiff enough’ in the event of a real crash. It’s conflicting requirements from three different departments that make the process so complex. You’re probably looking at 20 people being involved in the design of one part.
Mike: I think the thing that was a challenge this year was that the 2010 car really was a one-off, because of the way it was done with the design team and the time we had. There’s been almost no carry-over of parts for the 2011 car, whereas normally you’d have a substantial carry-over and the chance to optimise last year’s parts. It looks substantially different from last year’s car – it has a much more ‘current’ feel about it. And it’s the basis of our cars for the future.
Lewis: I think people will be quite impressed with the shape of the bodywork compared to last year.
Mike: Absolutely. It really follows current design trends, and aerodynamically it’s much more evolved. I mean, a car is really the sum of 4,000 small details, so it’s hard to pick out specific areas that are particularly brilliant, but overall it’s a much more optimised work of design and engineering.
Dieter Gass (Sporting Director): If there were specific things to get really excited about I probably wouldn’t want tell you what they were!
Lewis: Personally, I really like the suspension at the front. It’s not necessarily that outlandish but it’s very tidy. I like the roll hoop arrangement too. A lot of the stuff that I like as a designer is probably stuff you can’t see because it’s underneath the bodywork!
Elliot: I agree – the area that intrigues me the most is the front suspension, and the rear as well actually. We’ve tried to push the boundaries with a few things to make it a bit lighter and more efficient.
Marianne: I can’t give away too many secrets, but I think the front half of the car is quite a big step away from the 2010 car. Last year’s car was a bit blocky in the sidepod area, but this one looks a lot racier – it’s a lot smoother and curvier around the sidepods.
Lewis: That was the biggest design challenge, actually – just trying to package everything a bit smaller. We were trying to get that area around the driver really tight so the aerodynamicists were happy with it.
Keith Saunt (Chief Operating Officer): You can just see that this car will be faster than last year’s. It’s got the right sweeps and curves on it – it’s the very latest version of what an F1™ car should be. One of the things people have mentioned, though, is that we’re not using KERS...
Lewis: Well, the decision not to use KERS made the design job slightly easier, because packaging it in the car is always a bit more of a headache.
Marianne: It’s the same for us in aerodynamics: no KERS is actually easier because packaging all the bits you need for it is actually quite limiting for some of the aero shapes you need in some areas.
Keith: If KERS was going to get us from eighth to sixth then we’d have it. But when you look at the weight of it and some of the engineering challenges, I think it’s a good decision not to start with it. We might end up with it, who knows? But if we did we’ve got a lot of experienced people who could turn their hands to it. If we had to design a motorised catamaran canoe in a day, I reckon we could do that too! We’ve got some very clever people here.
Lewis: Then there was the moveable rear wing. When I first heard about it I was quite excited; any opening up of the regulations is always a challenge and it’s good fun.
Marianne: Absolutely. Whenever something like that comes up in the rules, it’s certainly a new challenge for us in terms of how to use it and what sort of performance we should be looking for aerodynamically. The challenge is working out what effect you’d like it to have in terms of optimum lap times.
Dieter: It was a bit less of a challenge than I thought it would be, though. Once you’ve looked at all the different concepts you can use, it wasn’t that hard to achieve a solution. I think we have quite a neat, simple system on this car.
Lewis: One of the best bits is when the car’s finished and it’s fired up for the first time. You start getting excited when you see what it’s going to look like in CAD, but when it’s built and you finally see it, that’s really incredible. I get pretty nervous just before it’s first fired up – there’s always something small that needs fixing unless you’re lucky…
Dieter: I don’t really get nervous… There’s excitement and then relief when it’s actually been done!
Keith: Oh, I’m always nervous! But it’s a happy, great, exciting nervous. To be able to see the fruits of everyone’s labour is something you don’t get much in other industries.
Mike: I think that basically, when you look at this car it looks like a front-running car in every area. We’ve said very clearly that we want to start challenging the established teams, and I think that’s very achievable. But that line has to continue going up, so we’ll have to target being up there with Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India, and then end the season by targeting Williams and Renault.
Dieter: Absolutely. We want and need to catch up with the midifeld, and get some points.
Keith: A lot of people might say I’m too optimistic… But I’d like to think we’ll get between 40 and 50 points this year. I think we’re targeting eighth strategically, but I doubt there’ll be a lot between sixth, seventh and eighth. Depending on how the other guys are doing, seventh could be achievable.
Elliot: We’re definitely going to take a step forward with this car. Quite how much we’ll close the gap to the teams in front of us, we’ll see, but my hope is we’ll be competing with the teams that were a second or two ahead of us last season. When you’re two seconds behind someone it’s tough; when you’re half a second behind, you can start racing them. Marianne: It would certainly be a real achievement to be able to compete with some of those established teams in only our second year.
Mike: The thing is, every team says they’re going to progress each year and people might say, ‘Well why are you going to do it better, then?’ The simple fact is that they’re going to keep doing what they do – whereas we’re growing up. We’ve got resources coming on stream now, like new CFD resources and a new wind tunnel programme in the UK, that we’ve never had. What we can do now will get better. Keith: I think it could be a very good year for us.
Mike: The problem for these other teams is that if we’ve been going for a year and then we start beating them, it’s a very clear message and it sends out a story which is embarrassing for them and good for us. It would be great for Formula One™ if this car can take us into the midield, because it shows what’s achievable for a properly run small team.
After this digital launch, the car will be shown in public tomorrow while Heikki Kovalainen will run it for the first time on Wednesday.