Michael Bailey: Team Lotus’ final fling at a few tenths

With Europe left behind, F1 this week turns to the fluorescent streets of Singapore's Marina Bay – the race where everyone wonders what would happen if the power went out.

Also, the race that will signal the lights going out on Team Lotus' T128 – metaphorically at least. Norwich chief technical engineer Mike Gascoyne and his designers will add their final upgrade to the car – a new floor and diffuser – before consigning it to the rest of the 2011 calendar and, ultimately, scrap heap.

In winter testing the car, which mimicked Force India's VJM04, was supposed to take the Hingham outfit into the midfield runners, but it just has not happened.

In the end, head of aerodynamics Marianne Hinson and technical director Mark Smith – who both joined after the season was up and running – looked at the T128, told those at Hingham what it would (and wouldn't) be capable of and moved on to the 2012 effort.

For now, we will ignore the elephant in the room of how the land lies on considering them Norfolk's F1 team in future – and hope the duo have chipped a few tenths into the gap to Williams this season, before making a really competitive effort for next.


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After all, team principal Tony Fernandes has already admitted heads will be on the block if the team does not deliver on its midfield promise in its third campaign.

As for the other Lotus (sort of) outfit, there have been suggestions Group Lotus' backing of the Renault team could yet come to an end – as early as the summer.

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It appears Hethel could leave taking up its option to buy the Oxfordshire-based team in the next year – or team owner Gerard Lopez may yet get the funding he needs from elsewhere.

Given the widespread suggestion Team Lotus will also drop the Norfolk marque next season it would be remarkable if, after 18 months of squabbling and one-upmanship, the whole affair ended with the L-word missing completely from the 2012 grid – a result that would probably sum it all up quite well.

• As the end of the 2011 season comes into sight, thoughts are already turning to 2012 – and no, I'm not talking about new cars.

I'm on about television coverage and wondering just how legions for British Formula One fans are going to get their fix without stumping up �50 every month for the Sky privilege.

There are elements of the BBC's failure to secure free-to-view races for fans beyond this season that do not sit comfortably with me – and it does appear to be the Beeb's failure, rather than anything else.

For example, the current arrangement still had another year to run – which meant when Sky, the BBC and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone were thrashing out a new deal, there was no room for any other terrestrial channel to get involved.

The budget or details may have been unworkable, but Channel Four was interested and others may have followed.

And a closed discussion is unlikely to produce a good result.

But primarily, my beef comes with the fact the BBC were negotiating early with Bernie and Sky in the first place.

Clearly the Beeb's Formula One budget was an issue, given their government funding has been cut dramatically. They need to make savings across the board.

Yet, it seems selfish in the extreme to use that as a way of getting Sky to help out and maintain their own, if smaller slice of the F1 pie – at the fans' expense.

The fact is the Beeb's Formula One production is huge. Web journalists, full television coverage live from the circuit and pundits almost certainly earning a fair wedge.

Does anyone here reckon Eddie Jordan's fortnightly thoughts come cheap? Of course not.

So could the BBC not have cut their cloth accordingly and turned what is brilliant if financially draining coverage into a streamlined operation that at least remained viewable by all?

What would be wrong with presenting the race weekends from a studio in London and keeping the boarding passes to a couple of interviewers and cameramen?

While there is no doubt Sky will bring a superb level of coverage next season, that should be alongside the tradition of free-to-view racing – every race – so that supporters at least get the chance to choose.

Formula One is a global sport. It is not like football, rugby, cricket etc – the choice to be at grand prix weekends is unrealistic for 99pc of fans.

However, I would be amazed if the BBC could not have arranged to provide complete coverage of some sort that ensured they had every race live next season.

That was their job – and sadly, a lot of fans will be left working out the best way to pick up the pieces after November.

• Singapore will be Sebastian Vettel's first opportunity to sew up his second drivers' title – he needs 13 points more than Fernando Alonso, eight more than Mark Webber and Jenson Button, and to finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton to do the business.

One thing to say, Vettel's pass on Alonso at Monza last time out was brilliant – something we have been waiting to see for some time from the uber-fast German.

A part-time philosopher, part-time overtaker and a likeable character – wherever it is that Vettel does secure his second drivers' championship, no one can argue against the Red Bull star being full value for it.

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