SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) — Lotus showed it is ready to be a regular Formula One points contender, as it shook off a dismal start to the season with an encouraging performance at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
The team may have come away from the race empty-handed and having suffered yet another engine failure with Pastor Maldonado car, but Romain Grosjean finished just one place out of the points in 11th and would likely have taken 10th if not for diffuser damage in the closing laps.
After an offseason of turmoil in which it lost team principal Eric Boullier, top driver Kimi Raikkonen and was forced to cut around 100 staff from its Enstone base, Lotus was a long way behind its rivals in developing the car around the sport’s new V6 turbo hybrid engines.
The cars barely turned a wheel in practice in Australia and both predictably retired from the race, and the technical strife looked like persisting at Sepang when the cars had very restricted running in practice, but Grosjean provided a much-needed fillip on Sunday.
He looked like passing Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat for 10th before sustaining damage, but at least had the satisfaction of holding off former teammate Raikkonen – now at Ferrari – over the closing laps.
“Eleventh place is good for all the guys at Enstone and at the track, and it’s good for me too,” Grosjean said.
“Without that issue, I’m sure we could have finished higher. It’s good to be back and close to the points so it’s a positive for all of us. It was a good battle at the end. I kept remembering our past battles to make sure Kimi couldn’t go through!”
Maldonado was the innocent victim in a first-lap collision with Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, and then had to retire with an unrelated failure of his turbocharger.