The team which already has been the center of attention ahead of this year's Formula One season, the Lotus Renault F1 Team, have presented their R31 at Valencia today. The black and gold painted R31 has certainly one of the most attractive liveries...
Lotus Renault unleash new 2011 contender, the R31, at Valencia
The team which already has been the center of attention ahead of this year's Formula One season, the Lotus Renault F1 Team, have presented their R31 at Valencia today. The black and gold painted R31 has certainly one of the most attractive liveries on this year's start grid, but is also one of the most controversial liveries, as it is reminiscent of the black and gold JPS tobacco sponsored Lotuses of the 1970s and 1980s. Nevertheless the Lotus Renault livery proved to be the main attraction today at Valencia, camera crews and photographers flocked in front of the Lotus Renault garage to get a picture of the R31.
Interestingly enough, after the media had made their shots of the new Lotus Renault, mechanics again covered the car and pushed it back into the garage, apparently the team doesn't want to reveal too many details of their brand-new 2011 contender. Renault and capital investor Genii have teamed up with Group Lotus this year, and the Enstone-based team designed this year's car with a bit more of an aggressive approach. Technical Director James Allison, "Words like 'aggressive' and 'innovative' are very much in vogue in Formula One at the moment, but where the R31 is concerned we feel that those adjectives are appropriate."
Team Principal and Managing Director Eric Boullier is confident his team will make a major step forward this year. "All the hard work over the last twelve months has been focused on delivering a big improvement for 2011, and that means we should be more competitive than last year. Will we be stronger than our competitors? Hard to say, but based on the efforts of everybody here, I feel we deserve it," said the Frenchman.
A closer look at the R31
Although French car maker Renault SA recently sold their remaining shares in the Formula One racing team to the Luxembourg-based Genii Capital investment company, the R31 is of course propelled by a Renault engine. The nose of the car is not positioned that high as those of Ferrari or Team Lotus, and especially the aerodynamic overall concept of the R31 is completely different compared to last year. Allison about the changes, "Those changes represent our attempt to extract the absolute maximum aerodynamic performance from the regulations, which have changed quite significantly for this year, and to further develop the concept of using the exhausts to blow the floor."
Renault will also be using the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) system this year, and the R31 has been completely re-designed to accommodate the KERS system in an efficient way. According to Allison Lotus Renault has opted for a pull rod system for the rear suspension. Again, the new 2011 technical regulations have dictated many of the design features. "Anyone can see that the treatment we have given to some specific areas is completely new compared with anything we have done previously. All of those things are aimed at trying to maximize the R31 under the 2011 rules," said Allison about the impact the new rules have had on the design.
The R31 also has the adjustable rear wing, Allison admitted the design wasn't easy, "Developing the wing added a considerable workload in the design and production stages, rather than simply making a refinement of the previous year's design. It meant starting with a completely clean sheet of paper." Asked about how the adjustable rear wing will affect the car he replied: "The gains from adjusting the rear wing will be more significant than the gains we saw last year using F-ducts. But, like the F-duct, it's far from straightforward aerodynamically and we've spent a great deal of time in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and the wind tunnel to make sure our concept delivers the best compromise."
Allison is also adamant the new rear wing is, as it has been for decades, a trade-off between minimum drag and maximum down force. "Every team will be looking for a wing that delivers the optimum compromise of down force in the corners, while shedding the maximum drag down the straights -- the better your wing can do that, the better your lap time will be in qualifying and the more competitive you will be in racing conditions," he said.
Drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov
Boullier thinks stability is the key to success for any Formula One team, and thinks a stable driver line-up is also a key element in contemporary Formula One. It will therefore be no surprise Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov will be driving for the new Lotus Renault outfit.
Polish Renault Lotus driver, the 26-year old Robert Kubica, has already earned his wings in the past five years, and is regarded as one of the most talented drivers in Formula One. All drivers have to get used to the new regulations, the new adjustable rear wing and the new Pirelli tyres.
Will Formula One be therefore very different this year? Kubica thinks it will be different this year. "I think it will be quite a bit different, but I wouldn't say it will be more challenging because taking an Formula One car to the limit is always a challenge. The drivers will definitely be busier with KERS and the adjustable rear wing, but it probably won't be any more difficult than last year when we had to operate the F-duct," Kubica said in an interview after the launch.
Asked about the possibilities of the new wing he said: "I think it's clear it will create the opportunity for more overtaking, which is good for Formula One and the show, but we need to be careful that it does not give too much advantage to the car behind." But he also remains cautious whether this will solve the overtaking problem, "If we see overtaking on every lap of the race because the wing is giving too much advantage, then I don't think this will be exciting."
Also 26-year old Vitaly Petrov will start his second year with the team, and this year he will have to prove Lotus Renault made the right choice contracting him for 2011. "Everybody knows that 2010 was not that easy for me, but after a year in Formula One I feel more confident and ready to face the challenge of 2011. I know what I need to change, where I can improve, and I'm determined to do well and fight hard for this team," the Russian said.
Petrov is also enthusiastic about the new rules and the adjustable rear wing as well, but he has no experience with the KERS system. "For me it will be more things to learn and adapt to because I've never used KERS before, but the adjustable rear wing is new for everyone ," said Petrov. In his opinion the new Pirellis will be the main challenge during the next pre-season testing days, "I think the biggest challenge is getting used to the new tyres and a big part of winter testing will be trying to understand them."
Test and reserve drivers
Much to everyone's surprise, Lotus Renault announced Brazilian Bruno Senna and Swiss-French Romain Grosjean have been added to the test and reserve driver line-up, and they will join Dutch-Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung, Czech Jan Charouz and former Team Lotus reserve driver Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy. Especially the announcement Senna had joined the Lotus Renault team was a big surprise.
"I'm excited, it's very nice to be part of something special like this," the nephew of the late and great Ayrton Senna said after the unveiling of the R31. "I'm very proud of having been given the opportunity by these guys. The guys from Lotus, the guys from the Formula One team, it's a great leap of faith of them to give me the shot, so I'm very happy. I hope this year can get better and better," a very relaxed Senna stated.
Grosjean, who already drove seven Formula One races for Renault in 2009, "It's a great team with a great atmosphere. For sure it's a great feeling, I'm sure it's the best option for me to get back in a [Formula One] race car in 2012." About the R31 he said: "This car is beautiful, the colors are not only very nice, but the feeling the car is giving to us is really very nice."
Last year Renault exceeded all expectations, and the 2010 Renault R30 even scored several podium places in the skillful hands of Kubica. Asked whether the R31 will be just as successful Technical Director Allison replied: "There are many teams that know how to produce a good car and we're under no illusion about the scale of the challenge facing us in 2011." And added, "We would be frustrated if we started 2011 operating at the same performance level we showed last year. That means we want the R31 to be competitive right from the off and in with a chance of scoring podiums or better from the first race."
Boullier is also optimistic ahead of the new season, that officially kicks off on March 13 in Bahrain. "I think there is a great deal to be excited about this year, especially as we begin an important new era for this team," he said, of course referring to the partnership with Group Lotus. "Now, with the arrival of a long-term partner, we have the financial stability to build on these strong foundations and ensure a very competitive future."
And Kubica's expectations? "My aim, as always, is to deliver a good and consistent performance across the year. That is the goal for any driver. At the moment it's difficult to know just how competitive our package will be, but the engineers have decided to go for an innovative design, which is good," the Pole replied.
Unfortunately for the Renault Lotus team, they are still locked into a legal battle with their rivals Team Lotus led by Malaysian Tony Fernandes, both teams claim they have the right to use the Lotus team, and a decision will be made during a full trial at the British High Court on March 21. Both teams are equally certain they will win this battle, but until then, the Formula One season will kick off with two Lotus teams at the start.
For now, Petrov will test the new car on Tuesday, while Kubica will put the R31 through its paces on Wednesday and Thursday at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia.