Blazing a trail
There’s a revolution afoot.
You may not have made a mental note but subliminally you’ll be aware.
The men in black (and gold) are coming…
Across all levels in Formula 1, Lotus are setting some impressive new standards and the others are taking note.
For Lotus read Renault, for Renault read Benetton, for Benetton read Toleman. At heart this is a proper F1 team, steeped as they are in a history of race wins, team titles and driver champions, all achieved in a no-nonsense style over many a season.
On the technical front James Allison, the man responsible for the direction of all things engineering at the team’s sleepy rural Oxfordshire HQ, doesn’t appear to be quite as aero and downforce-dominated in thinking as some of his colleagues at rival teams.
Of course the greater the aero efficiency the better, but Allison’s 2013 car appears rather more conventional in appearance than some of its competitors. Adrian Newey’s RB9 – as has been the case with all his recent championship winning cars – shows the requisite levels of extreme rake, allowing the front end to be as close to the Tarmac as possible; a stance essential to the way Newey prefers to glue his cars to the road.
Travelling an alternative aero-generating route, Allison’s Lotus E21 has a very level-to-the-road posture, suggesting a car that isn’t revolutionary in design but perhaps easier to work with than some rival team’s machines. The non-radical nature of the Enstone racer also makes for a less ‘newsworthy’ story, with the result that the aero-fixated group of press-room ‘experts’ focus their hypothesising elsewhere.
Viewed from closer quarters at many a race track, the serene and super-smooth – almost active-like – way the car rides the undulations and floats over kerbs is an impressive sight. To see the way the E21 magic carpet rode over the vicious ripples that precede Turn One of the Malaysian circuit left one in no doubt as to the ability and engineering excellence that Allison’s talented group of engineers have brought to bear on their latest ride.
At the top of the tree, team owner Gerard Lopez makes all the right noises that a switched-on and progressive team supremo – 2013 style – should. Designers, drivers, engineers, mechanics, marketing ,et al, are all given free reign – within the brand ethos parameters, of course – to get on with the job at hand.
You tell me which other top-drawer team boss would sanction the refusal of garish, crass, cheap-and-not-so-cheerful Dutch watch brand TW Steel’s money? The team choosing not to renew a three year deal for 2013 when Lopez agreed with his always immaculate marketing communications boss, Frenchman Stephane Samson, that the oversized timepieces don’t really fit with the Lotus brand ideals.
Spend five minutes watching rival team media managers during an F1 weekend and you’ll likely see more than a few envious glances towards the black-clad crew. Being given the licence to be creative has enabled the Lotus team to surge ahead in the brave new world of social media interaction. Sure it’s nice for the press to be given the occasional freebie – Mini Magnum memory sticks in Melbourne and David Bowie CDs in Sepang – but the point is Tweets soon follow, spreading only good news to untold millions worldwide.
Fellow teams with – dare I suggest – a more controlling mien also have Twitter feeds and doubtless do make an effort of sorts; but, in this modern multi-platform digital environment, they still worry way too much what the dying-a-little-more-every-day, simplistic in their understanding of the finer points of the sport, ‘Fleet Street’ hacks are writing.
One cannot underestimate too much just how important this side of the business has become. In Formula 1 as everywhere else, marketing men are hunting hard for that elusive cocktail: the right mix of getting the message across, appearing cool and switched on, and therefore worthy of attention.
On the driver front, what a stroke of genius it was to employ the one-of-a-kind Kimi Raikkonen. Following his two-year sojourn in the world of rallying, the self-styled Iceman couldn’t really have been any more of a success. What a perfect fit the nonchalant, apparently relaxed, vodka enjoying, champagne swilling, James Hunt loving, throwback of an F1 driver Raikkonen undoubtedly is.
The team put only the most necessary of marketing demands Kimi’s way. His genius is therefore largely undisturbed by such troublesome duties.
A wonderfully consistent and successful 2012 was followed immediately with a winning start to the new season, and an impressive second place at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix –having spent much of the race sans downforce-enhancing accoutrements on the front wing. The 2007 world champion, seemingly fired up to race hard in a team totally in tune with their man, is surely a good outside bet to push for 2013 title honours.
However the season pans out for F1’s most progressively minded team, they can be sure in the knowledge they’re blazing a trail – a trail the others are desperate to follow.
Do keep up.