Lotus’ pace this 2013 season is undeniable, with victory in Melbourne and a fastest lap time in Free Practice 2 in Malaysia. Now rivals have moved to question their rise to the top after struggling with extremely high tyre degradation in Malaysia.
Whilst Red Bull and other rivals experienced high wear and high degradation of rubber around the Sepang Circuit, the Lotus appeared to gain pick up but then have the ability to clean their tyres of excess rubber around later corners, meaning their car could be pushed to the maximum for more corners and more laps than the rest.
Rivals have begun to question how much knowledge Lotus would have gained from having their 2010 chassis as the model Pirelli used to try out and test this years new rubber. Whilst the car itself is now 3 years old and the majority of the parts on this years car would have been heavily changed since then, there will be some parts that remain the same, as not all areas of the car are changed year to year. The core DNA of the machine remains. The other teams’ speculation arises when they assess how much Lotus knew about what set up changes enabled the tyres to work correctly or at an optimum range.
The Pirelli contract did state that no team would gain substantial benefit from the tests and all the teams were offered the opportunity to ‘give’ Pirelli a chassis, however many declined until Lotus offered. Perhaps this recent upturn in performance for Lotus is the fruit from their good-will seed from 2011.
Romain Grosjean set the quickest time in a rain affected Free Practice 3 at Albert Park.
His dry time of 1m26.929 was faster than Alonso, Massa, di Resta and Kimi Räikkönen.
The times were wholly irrelevant as rain fell at the circuit after 15 minutes forcing all the drivers to pit and remain in the garages.
Felipe Massa was the driver to go out for a full wet tyre run with 25 minutes remaining. Most drivers then took to the track for exploratory runs on both sets of wet tyre until the end of the session.
With just 10 minutes of the session remaining, Sebastian Vettel pulled off circuit with a hydraulic failure.
Sebastian Vettel lead the way at the end of day one in Melbourne.
His time of a 1m25.908 was quicker than team mate Mark Webber by just under two tenths of a second.
Nico Rosberg finished third, Kimi Raikkonen fourth and Romain Grosjean in the sister Lotus was fifth. Alonso’s Ferrari was sixth, whilst Lewis Hamilton ended the day seventh. Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenburg rounded off the top ten.
The Mclaren drivers languished in 11th and 13th after Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted the car was unbalanced and difficult to understand.
The session got underway with all drivers, barring the Ferrari pair, heading to the track to continue their set up work from the earlier practice.
The Mercedes pair both made early mistakes pushing too hard and running off track at Turn One.
Giedo van der Garde’s session came to a halt on the hour mark after beaching his Caterham in the gravel. Jean Eric Vergne spun at Turn 4 with just half an hour to go.
Most of the teams switched to the softer compound tyre early on and found very little gain in time.
Sebastian Vettel went to the red striped tyre and got held up, but it wasn’t long before he set a quicker time, although he reported it was without KERS.
Lewis Hamilton tried challenging the Germans top time before locking up and going off the track at Turn 9.
With just 7 minutes remaining, the British driver put the Mercedes into the gravel trap after a mistake and lock up at Turn 7.
The day ended badly for Mercedes when Nico Rosberg pulled off the track after Turn 8 with a suspected gearbox problem with just 5 minutes left of the session.
Mark Webber ran out of rear grip in the dying minutes and spun his Red Bull after Turn 13.