The Lotus F1 team has officially revealed its E21 race car for the 2013 season, at a launch ceremony set at the team factory in Enstone.
Unveiled by team drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, with all the key features of the car explained by Lotus technical director James Allison, the E21 promises to build upon the competitiveness of its forebearer, the E20.
Though bearing an uncanny visual similarity to its predecessor, Allison states "the devil is in the detailing", with all the tweaks here and there contributing to a noticeable increase in performance over the E20.
Speaking to the press, Allison revealed that "depending on where you look, some parts of the new car are a ground-up redesign and in other areas we have further optimised the best bits of the design philosophy we've adopted for several seasons".
Indeed, in a game of F1 spot-the-difference, alterations to the aero package do become apparent, especially the rear, which appears to take everal cues from the last year's championship-winning Red Bull RB9.
A new "passive" drag reduction system (DRS) that Lotus was toying with last year has also been attached to the car, which – in theory – should be far superior to the conventional setup used last year.
For despisers of the "duck nose" nose cone, though, the E21 may be a disappointment, as the 'step' has been retained for this year's car. Though a cosmetic 'vanity panel' cover to hide what some have described as the "ugly" front end was an option, Allison revealed that, as it was for cosmetic purposes only and added a few kilos to the car's overall weight, the team decided it was best to not implement it into the overall design.
One of the key announcements, though, is that the team now expect to increase the car's pace when compared with what the solidly capable E20 could muster, withn team principal Eric Boullier declaring that it was his intentions for Lotus to end the 2013 season with at least a third-place finish in the Constructors' Championship.
Speaking to the press, Boullier mentioned I think it is fair to say that great things are possible. The leap we made from 2011 to 2012 showed what we are capable of. Add to this the continuity and potential of our driver line-up and we have a very powerful cocktail for the season ahead".
However, whilst Allison was also highly optimistic of the E21's chance, he – as with Kimi Raikkonen, who was asked a similar question during the live, televised unveiling – couldn't say for sure if the E21 has what it takes to achieve Boullier's targets.
"The E20 proved itself to be an effective racing car, so there is an element of expectation from the E21. We have continued with our design themes and tried to build a more efficient and faster racing car based on all the lessons we learnt last year. How successful we have been at this we will only know once we take to the track at Grands Prix".
Indeed, the overall pace of the E21 is still a grey area, and we'll only have all the blanks filled in at the very earliest when the pre-season test sessions commence in February. The evolutionary, rather than revolutionary approach may also be a hindrance, especially if other teams have taken a more radical approach to their respective 2013 car's design than Lotus.
That said, Lotus did bounce back from structural fears at last year's test sessions to become a consistently formidable force throughout the 2012 season, and did score a third in qualifying at the season opener in Melbourne, courtesy of Grosjean, so the team will almost certainly be aiming for a similar result on the 16th March (the day the qualifying sessions at the Albert Park track are scheduled for).
Add the pace of Raikkonnen and Grosjean into the mix – especially with the latter claiming he's learnt from his calamitous mistakes from last year – and you have, as Boullier put it, "a very powerful cocktail for the season ahead".
Though this concluding statement may be subject to change, depending on what the other teams pull out of the bag, it certainly seems that Lotus is still one of the teams to pay extra close attention to. It's too early to tell at this moment in time, but all the initial, on-paper pieces of info we have are quite promising, to say the least…