The 2011 season was one of transition at Enstone. Genii Capital had become the sole shareholder in the team, taking full control from previous owners Renault, and the first steps were starting to be put in place as part of an ambitious plan to revive the glory days of the Benetton and Renault eras.
So, with new owners came a new identity; Lotus Renault GP, and the return of an iconic livery to the Formula 1 grid with the Enstone’s latest creation – the R31 – sporting a distinctive black and gold colour scheme.
The R31 was a unique piece of engineering, with the car designed around an innovative forward facing exhaust system which the team hoped would give it an un-imitable advantage or its rivals.
Starting the season strongly with two podium finishes, it seemed the concept was bringing the anticipated results, however as the season continued the exhaust system proved more of a hindrance than an aid, with performances tailing off towards the end of the year.
A rollercoaster year and a very brief period in the history of the team, as the Enstone outfit underwent a further identity change to become Lotus F1 Team for the 2012 season. Below is a summary of the Lotus Renault GP era in numbers:
- Debut – 2011 Australian Grand Prix
- Final Race – 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix
- Race Weekends – 19
- Points – 73
- Wins – 0
- Podiums – 2
- Pole Positions – 0
- Fastest Laps – 0
The First of His Kind
Maintaining his seat from the 2010 season after showing good potential in his debut season, Vitaly Petrov got off to a positive start in 2011 with a third place finish at the season opening Australian Grand Prix.
As the season continued, difficulties with the R31 car coincided with a drop in results for the first Russian driver in Formula 1. Nonetheless, he went on to claim a total of eight points scoring finishes from the nineteen rounds of the season before moving to the Caterham team for 2012. Below is an outline of the Russian driver’s career with the team:
- Nationality – Russian
- D.O.B. – 8th September 1984
- Debut – 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix
- Final Race – 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix
- Race Weekends – 38
- Best Championship Position – P10 (2011)
- Best Result – P3 (2011 Australian Grand Prix)
- Best Qualifying – P6 (x2)
After a pre-season injury ruled Robert Kubica out of the 2011 season, the experienced Nick Heidfeld stepped in to fill the Polish drivers race seat. As with his Russian team-mate, the Heidfeld’s season got off to a flying start, with a podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix followed by a further five points scoring finishes before the German was eventually replaced by Bruno Senna at the Belgian Grand Prix .
Having joined the team as third driver for the 2011 season, Bruno Senna instantly settled in with the Enstone family, with his positive attitude and high levels of professionalism backed up with an undoubted natural ability. Promoted to a race seat at the Belgian Grand Prix in place of Nick Heidfeld, the Brazilian driver made an instant impression by qualifying in seventh for his first race. A difficult end to the season in the underperforming R31 lead to just a single points scoring finish for Senna before departing for the Williams team for 2012.
History in the Making
When Vitaly Petrov joined the team – at the time known as Renault – in 2010, he became the first Russian to compete in the Formula 1 World Championship. One year later he was making history once again as the first of his nation to stand on the podium at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix.
Having qualified in a strong sixth place for the race, the Russian took two places in the first corner as Alonso and Button struggled in the opening moments. Adopting a different strategy to those around him Petrov made two pit stops to his rival’s three, thereby jumping Mark Webber during the second phase of the race.
Despite intense pressure from Fernando Alonso in the closing stages, the Russian held on to take his first podium, etching his name into the history books in the process. Below are the key figures from the race:
- Venue – Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia
- Weather Conditions – Sunny, Mild, Dry
- Chassis – R31
- Engine – RS27-2011
- Drivers – Nick Heidfeld (GER), Vitaly Petrov (RUS)
- Qualifying – P6 (Petrov), P18 (Heidfeld)
- Result – P3 (Petrov), P12 (Heidfeld)
- Fastest Lap – Felipe Massa, Ferrari (1:28.947)
Silverware and Debuts
Mirroring his team-mates’ performance at the previous race in practically every way, Nick Heidfeld produced a top drawer performance to take third place at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. Having also started in sixth place on the grid the German driver got off to a flying start, jumping to second place on the first lap before eventually being displaced to third by Jenson Button later in the race.
When Bruno Senna made his race debut for the team at the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix, the Brazilian driver faced an uphill battle to learn the car and circuit in variable weather conditions. Despite the challenges, the nephew of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna produced a fine qualifying display to start the race in seventh position. A scrappy first lap combined with other hindrances dropped the Brazilian down the order as the race went on, but good pace and an admirable debut performance put him firmly on the map.
Fires and Flights
In his last race for the team, Nick Heidfeld made a somewhat spectacular exit at the 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix. Leaving the pit lane after a routine stop, his R31 caught fire with the German forced to abandon the car at the side of the track. Caused by a cracked exhaust, the flames also caused an air bottle to burst through the side of the car, writing off Heidfeld’s chassis.
Although recruited as a driver, it seemed Vitaly Petrov was more intent on taking to the skies at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. Running wide on the exit of turn seven, the Russian driver kept his foot hard to the floor to avoid losing time, only to be launched high into the air by an unexpected bump at the end of the kerb. So great was the impact that the steering column of Petrov’s R31 snapped clean off.