March 24th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - A week ago, Kimi Raikkonen took a calm, controlled victory in Australia, looking like he had plenty of speed in hand. Just seven days later, Lotus could do no better than sixth and seventh, and never looked quick enough in the race to trouble the leaders.
Free Practice 1 and 2 on Friday saw a strong Lotus team on top of the time sheets. But on Saturday and Sunday, the team could not unleash the full potential of the car in the conditions. Perhaps it was the cooler track temperatures resulting from the rain. Perhaps the Lotus team simply needs to understand the car better, which will just take time. But for whatever, reason, Raikkonen and Grosjean were slower than expected in qualifying and that put them on the back foot for today's Malaysian Grand Prix .
In the race, Raikkonen found himself battling with the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg, rather than the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes cars ahead. Grosjean could possibly have had the chance to finish ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa, but the timing of their respective pitstops meant that Massa was on fresh tyres at the end of the race and Grosjean was defenceless on his older, used tyres. Massa passed Grosjean with just two laps to go in the race, relegating the Frenchman to a sixth place finishing position.
Raikkonen's battle with Hulkenberg saw some extremely aggressive defending from the young German in the Sauber. There was a point in the fight when Hulkenberg suddenly veered across at Raikkonen on the exit of turn 4 and his right-rear tyre made contact with Raikkonen's left front. Raikkonen eventually got past Hulkenberg and finished ahead of him in seventh place, but he would have preferred to have a faster car capable of fighting further forward in the field.
There is now a three week break before the next race in China, which gives Lotus some time to work out what they did wrong in Malaysia. They will want to make a swift return to form in Shanghai.
This is what the team had to say after the Malaysian Grand Prix:
Romain Grosjean: “I think we can be quite happy with the result today. It was a tough race, starting wet and finishing dry, but that’s what you expect in Malaysia. I spent a lot of time stuck behind Felipe [Massa] in the middle phase of the race and I’m sure if I could have passed him earlier then I would have stayed ahead, but by the end my tyres were finished so it was best just to let him through. It’s not the result we would have wanted at the beginning of the weekend, but at the end of the day it’s more points for the team and we’ll try to come back stronger in Shanghai.”
Kimi Räikkönen: “Although the car felt very good on Friday, yesterday and today have been pretty difficult. Since Saturday morning it has not been behaving as we expected for some reason, especially in the wet where we really struggled for grip. It was a tough race and I lost part of my front wing at the start which didn’t help, but at least we scored a few points which is better than coming away with nothing. If we can get the car back to how it was in Australia then I’m sure we’ll be at the front again.”
Eric Boullier, Team Principal: "It’s not been the best day for us, but when you take into account our qualifying positions and the difficult start for both drivers I think the points we take for sixth and seventh is a solid result. Unfortunately with the conditions today we didn’t see the full potential of the car, and the time we lost at the start was always going to be difficult to catch up. To finish within a reasonable distance of the leaders was a good effort from both drivers and also the team in terms of our strategy. With a normal weekend I’m sure we can expect some stronger results.”
James Allison, Technical Director: “This weekend feels like a case of what might have been. We had a car on Friday which looked extremely promising, but unfortunately that didn’t translate into the sort of result we’d expect. Qualifying tenth and eleventh – particularly in the wet – was not an ideal start, with the consequence that within seven laps we were around thirty seconds from the front. Our progress thereafter was actually quite respectable so it’s frustrating to have lost touch with the race at such an early stage, but I’m confident we’ll be delivering some stronger results in the coming races.”