Lotus came to the vast expanse of the Sochi track, amid the lingering heartbreak of Jules Bianchi’s accident, with gritty determination. They had experienced solid, if challenging performances in both Singapore and Japan, despite the conditions, but now the faced the challenge of a new circuit. Both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado had spent a great deal of time on the simulator to become as familiar as possible with the track. The Sochi track was a much faster one, with less downforce, setting the stage for some excellent racing.
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Both drivers, however, struggled from the very beginning of the weekend. Qualifying found Grosjean starting 16th and Maldonado starting 21st following two penalties. The track surface was proving to be a challenge as the surface and the Pirellis provided little grip to the tyres. The poor starting positions meant that starting the race was all the more difficult. Cars plunged down the fast straights and lunged into the corners with Grosjean and Maldonado in the thick of the mix. Grosjean had a hard time with his tyres, expressing concern during the first few laps that they did not warm up as needed and remained cold causing such handling problems that Grosjean thought he may have had a puncture. That, however, was not the case and once the tyres came up to temperature he was able to handle the car better.
Lotus took a one-stop strategy for the race, bringing both cars in early on in the running. Grosjean came in first and changed from soft tyres to medium. Maldonado came in shortly after and made the opposite switch from mediums to softs. The team ran the split tyre strategy due to the fact that they were struggling with both set ups, finding neither one conducive to their cars or their drivers.
Both drivers, once they settled into their cars, managed to find a workable rhythm. Late in the race, Grosjean and Sutil touched as they exited a corner, an incident Grosjean called, “simply a racing accident”. Damage was slight, however, and Grosjean was able to continue and bring his car home in 17th while Maldonado followed him in 18th. Neither driver was comfortable or confident in their finish but accepted the fact that the track was ill-suited for the E22 and the set up they had arrived with. The team was left wondering if they had escaped a bullet or been hit somewhere they had yet to locate. Regardless, the experience had left the team eager to move on to the American Grand Prix and to return to Sochi next year, better prepared, more knowledgeable, and ready to race.
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