(Reuters) - Last year’s race winners Lotus are braced for a tough start to the Formula One season in Australia on Sunday, with their immediate target being just reaching the finish after a difficult time in testing.
French driver Romain Grosjean, who was regularly challenging for podium places last year, accepted the first few races would be hard but was optimistic the team would make up lost ground.
“We’re not in a nice situation but it doesn’t mean that it’s game over,” he said in a team preview for the race in Melbourne.
“For us, the weekend will be maximizing the time on track, aiming to finish the race and getting the best result possible,” added Grosjean, who has a new team mate in Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.
Lotus finished fourth overall last season and won in Australia with Kimi Raikkonen, who has since departed for Ferrari.
The British-based team struggled financially towards the end of last year and missed the first test of the season because their car was not ready in time.
When they did turn up for the second and third tests in Bahrain, problems with the new Renault V6 power unit meant they got in far fewer laps than all the other teams in sessions dominated by Mercedes-engined rivals.
Lotus have also lost principal Eric Boullier to McLaren, with chairman Gerard Lopez taking over the role.
“There is a degree of frustration coming away from winter testing,” said technical director Nick Chester.
”As was evident in Bahrain, we have much more work to do with the power unit itself to ensure that it is working correctly with the chassis.
“To be blunt, we are starting further back than we would like to be. I think that the first two races of this season will be very challenging for us, however it also depends on the solutions that Renault Sport F1 will be able to bring to the table too,” said Chester.
Despite that he was also optimistic that the E22 car, which tested with a distinctive split nose, would in time become “a very strong proposition”.
Chester said solution to the problems encountered so far looked “fairly obvious”, which should allow the team to make reasonably quick progress with improving reliability, although that could be a false dawn.
“Because of the low mileage runs thus far, the reality is that there might be issues that we have yet to discover, and which might crop up further down the line and compromise reliability in the first few races,” he warned.
“Our target is to finish the race. As we have done so little mileage it is difficult to estimate where we will be at in terms of performance.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer