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Michael Bailey, Formula One correspondent
Thursday, November 8, 2012
The journey has been long, messy and fraught with bad headlines. For some, the connection is tenuous and the team at Enstone still more Renault than anything to do with a certain iconic brand just south of Norwich.
• GW – Marussia: The 2010 new boys saw their 10th place in the constructors’ standings just about see out another race, while Charles Pic out-qualified Petrov’s Caterham.
• BW – Sergio Perez: The Mexican’s difficult finish to the season continued with an unnecessary early exit – you wonder what McLaren make of all that from their 2013 man.
But one thing was crystal clear on Sunday – the winning team of the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was bedecked in Lotus badges, with a Lotus-named chassis, under an English licence.
As far as advertising power and the air of success goes, it was a notable day for all those at Hethel and a reminder of the motorsport name this area can lay claim to.
It is also an event that has been some time coming – coincidentally with F1’s return to the United States next on the schedule.
Ayrton Senna was the last person to lead the Lotus badge on to the top step of an F1 podium, at the Detroit Grand Prix in 1987 thanks to his Honda-powered charger.
"Lewis deserved to win the race – we were all pretty confident it should have been a relatively easy win"
In its former guises, most recently Renault, the constructor based at Enstone has been no stranger to either race wins or championships. But in recent seasons they have struggled for form and for money – reflecting similar issues at Hethel.
Enstone’s future remains uncertain. Rumours ex-Lotus owners Proton may swoop to buy the F1 team reappeared a few weeks ago, while Lotus’ own, rather botched sponsorship of the team currently revolves around nothing more than a good will gesture – something that tends to have a short life span in a sport like Formula One.
“The most important thing is to show everybody that Lotus is serious,” said team principal Eric Boullier after Kimi Raikkonen’s Yas Marina win. “We have shown that we can deliver regular podiums, and we can now say we can win as well.
“Our strategy is we want to be a top team, I always said this, and to be a top team we need to keep pushing and gaining more results, resources and sponsors to establish ourselves.
“We are happy to share this success with the people (sponsors) we have on our shirt, but it is also important for the sponsors we are talking with. The media will relay the message for us, but obviously this win will help us get positive decisions in commercial discussions to build us for the future.”
How long the Lotus name will remain in the sport continues to be up for discussion. And as is widely known, there are currently more pressing issues at the Hethel car manufacturer beyond supporting a Formula One enterprise – even if the support is now far from financial.
So all the more reason to revel in the pictures of Kimi and co enjoying their moment as Lotus.
It was a host of updates that helped bring their improved performance, so maybe the remaining races in Texas and Sao Paulo will see them repeat the trick before 2012 is out.
• Taking into account momentum, pace, recent experience and an impressive relentlessness, it seems highly likely Sebastian Vettel will bag a third title in three years this season. What’s maybe most surprising is the fact I am now willing him to do it.
There have been regular musings in plenty of places other than this column on the German’s driving style and the way he has won his two previous drivers’ crowns.
But if he seals the deal this time around, expect such discussions as Vettel’s overtaking ability to be binned early.
In truth, the subject became something of a reputation during his first success – a title that would have come far more easily but for better reliability and most definitely without a few of his own errors.
At the time, they seemed flaws in Vettel’s talent. He has since proved they were only flaws in his experience.
No doubt the Red Bull is quicker than anything out there at the moment. And no debate Vettel is so naturally quick that when he does produce a pole position, he is relentless in stopping anyone else getting a sniff of success come Sunday.
But this season, more than any, the German has also regularly exhibited a sublime race craft that has earned him extra points.
And with his efforts in the Abu Dhabi heat at the weekend, they earned him a hell of a lot of respect too. In some ways that is well overdue. But no one can now argue it’s totally deserved – as would be title number three.