LONDON, England - Comparing 2015’s Mercedes-powered Lotus Formula 1 car to the team's troublesome 2014 one was child's play for driver Romain Grosjean.
LOVE MY RIDE: Romain Grosjean in his Lotus. Image: Lotus website.
"I was playing with my son - he has a rugby ball and a basketball," the Frenchman told Reuters in a phone interview while explaining their different characteristics. "I was trying to bounce the rugby ball and it was going all over the place; the basketball was going straight."
No prizes for guessing which car was the basketball.
HIGH AND LOW
"This year when you get into the corners the car feels stable...you don't have any bad surprises, it's predictable and you can push harder," Grosjean said. "I had a big smile on my face as the car was nice to drive."
Lotus was fourth overall in 2013, winning in Australia with Finland's Kimi Raikkonen before he departed to Ferrari, but slumped to eighth with 10 points in 2014 when V6 turbo/hybrid power replaced the V8 engines.
The team also had financial problems: some key staff left, along with sponsors, but the team is confident it is back on track after switching from Renault power to Mercedes. Whether that can put Grosjean and Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado back on the podium remains to be seen.
The Mercedes works team is expected to set the pace again after a dominant 2014 but the Frenchman was hopeful. Speaking after the announcement of an extended partnership between Lotus F1 and Denmark-based sponsor Saxo Bank, he said the team was moving in the right direction.
"It felt pretty good," he said of his first experience at the wheel of the new E23 car in testing in southern Spain a week earlier. Lotus completed 190 laps over the four days in Jerez and 111 in 2014 pre-season testing.
"We know Mercedes has the best power unit on the grid... our start with them has been very smooth. Everything is working as we would like so at least that’s a question mark removed from the equation.
"This stage in 2014 was difficult for us. We missed Jerez and then went to Bahrain and didn't do a lap so it's been a big difference."
ONLY FRENCH DRIVER
Maldonado, a winner with Williams in 2012, said recently that Lotus – twice champion in their former guise of Benetton and Renault -- had all the tools to be competitive and win again but Grosjean refused to be drawn into too much optimism.
"I think it's too early to say," said the 28-year-old, still waiting for his breakthrough first win in F1 after five thirds and a second in 2013.
"We want to be in the top 10 often and we would like to be top five. Why not back on the podium? I still think there are teams a bit stronger than us... but of course we're going to do everything we can.
"We have stability from 2014 to 2015 that we didn't have a year earlier so that's a very good way to start the season. Everybody knows his job and everyone is doing it properly - that's certainly going to help us."
Grosjean, now the only French driver on the grid given Jules Bianchi’s serious injuries in his 2014 crash in Japan and Jean-Eric Vergne losing his seat at Toro Rosso, hoped to fly the flag.
"I’m the only one left,” he said. “There were four in 2014 and three in 2013. Jules is always with us in thought, but I feel there's a lot of support now for me being the only French driver on the grid.”