Lotus has pulled out of the Barcelona test with immediate effect as a result of the problems it encountered with its chassis this morning.
The team has decided to abandon running in order to fully understand the problem with the chassis that manifested itself on chassis 2, which ran for the first time today.
This is despite chassis 1 completing the full Jerez test two weeks ago. The team said the problem requires modification to both chassis.
The car completed 1788 km of testing at Jerez, but the problem manifested itself at the higher-speed Barcelona configuration.
“Before we were due to fly chassis E20-01 out to Barcelona in replacement of chassis E20-02 – damaged this morning – we ran a series of simulations at the factory based on the data provided by our brief running on track today,” said technical director James Allison.
“As a result, we were able to identify an area which requires some additional work. It will be more productive for us to carry out these modifications to both chassis at Enstone rather than send E20-01 out to this week’s test. We’ll put the right measures in place and we will be able to fix the problem before next week.”
Team boss Eric Boullier added: “Not running this week has been a tough decision to take, but we feel that our choice is the right one. On the positive side, we have quickly identified the issue with the chassis and our design office has already devised a solution. We will be present at next week’s test in Barcelona.
“We draw faith from the fact that the E20 was quick out of the box in Jerez and showed its reliability there. We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next week but everyone at Enstone is ready for this challenge.”
Although the team has not revealed the exact nature of the chassis fault, AUTOSPORT understands it is in an area towards the front of the car.
AUTOSPORT’s technical correspondent Gary Anderson believes that the high lateral loads experienced at Barcelona played a key part in revealing the chassis fault that forced Lotus to abandon this week’s test.
Lotus ditched plans to run chassis 1 in place of the new monoque that ran briefly at Barcelona before Romain Grosjean complained of a ‘strange’ feeling.
Speaking to AUTOSPORT about the Lotus situation, Anderson said: “The aerodynamic loads on the car are higher in Barcelona than in Jerez, so that could explain why the problem didn’t manifest itself at Jerez.
“Reading between the lines, I would say it was likely to be something to do with a mount rather than the front suspension, as if it was a suspension problem you could have a good go at patching it up at the track with a glue injection and fastenings to hold it in situ.
“The fact that Lotus has pulled out of the whole test rather than going back to the factory to patch it up and then run later in the week suggests it’s a serious problem. Unless it is something that is too severe to fix so quickly or that you need to produce new parts to solve.”
Anderson believes that the confirmation that Lotus also detected a potential problem that will require modifications to chassis 1, which completed almost 1,000 miles of testing at Jerez two weeks ago, supports the hypothesis that it is related to an attachment.
“Lotus wasn’t as quick on the final day of that test, though, so maybe there was a little deterioration,” he said.
“Barcelona is a very different challenge. There was a pretty vicious bump around the start finish line in the past, so it’s possible this has caused a problem. Alternatively, it could be the long right-hander at Turn 3, where there is a huge amount of torsional stress on the chassis.
“It could also be that chassis 1 was used for the torsion and bending tests that a team would do and then chassis 2 did the crash tests. But as you wouldn’t push to the absolute limit to see how stiff the car was, the problem might have been hidden on chassis one.”
Lotus plans to make modifications to chassis 1 and chassis 2 to allow it to continue testing in the second Barcelona test that kicks off on March 1.
The team has not confirmed where exactly the problem on the chassis is, but one theory Anderson has is that it is related to the engine mounts.
“The mounts will be a solid insertion and could be made of carbon fibre, machined aluminium, titanium, all sorts of things. It’s basically to give a solid fastening,” he said.
“It’s the kind of thing that you can fix, ideally back at the factory in a controlled environment. But you could do that in one day so if they aren’t going to run this week, it suggests that they maybe need to do more than just inject glue and put fasteners in. So it could be a more dramatic problem and maybe it will need new chassis.
“Chassis 3 would likely be on its way for Melbourne and might be at the point in the manufacturing process where you could integrate the fix properly. If they did that, it’s possible that Lotus might have to have that chassis and one patched up one for Melbourne as it’s a tight turnaround to build a fourth chassis if it hasn’t started.”
Anderson adds that he feels the problem is more likely to be a manufacturing fault than a design error.
He also backed the team’s decision to pull out of the test.
“The engine specification and the mount positions won’t have changed with the Renault engine, so I doubt if there’s a design error,” he said. “There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel so it’s likely to be the same.
“If it is the engine mounts, then I would have thought that either an error in the material or with the bonding or something like that has caught them out instead. But if it’s, for example, a glue problem, then what starts as a small problem could become a big one because there might be 50 inserts all over the chassis.
“The problem isn’t a huge safety issue, but if the car feels strange, as Romain Grosjean says it did, then it’s only going to get worse.
“It’s a dramatic enough problem to wipe the test out, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens from here.”