BOTTLES of champagne were popped and glasses clinked as both Lotus Racing cars finished their maiden F1 race at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir yesterday.
Finn Heikki Kovalainen brought his T127 car home in 15th place in a 49-lap race under hot weather conditions.
Team-mate Jarno Trulli was keeping a steady pace just behind Kovalainen until 10 laps to go when his car developed hydraulic failure.
But to the Italian’s credit, he managed to guide the car to the distance deemed enough to be classified in 17th place.
Trulli and Kovalainen started from 20th and 21st on the grid.
Seven cars failed to finish the race on the 6.299km track, which was extended by 800m with the introduction of eight new corners.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso started his Ferrari career with a bang by winning the season-opening race ahead of Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa.
Lotus Racing team principal Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes was a picture of concentration while the chief executive officer, Riad Asmat, certainly wore a worried look on the pit as the two cars started lining up for the formation lap.
But there were smiles all around almost two hours later as the cars, despite being lapped twice by the front runners, continued to run steadily on the single pit-stop strategy.
Tony had a reason to call for a champagne celebration after taking the honour of the best team among the newcomers ahead of Virgin Racing and Hispania F1.
The ban on refuelling meant that all drivers started on heavy load and the starts were slower than usual.
“It’s mission accomplished for us. It’s so great to have both cars finish,” said Tony.
“Sure, we at the back but we won’t be there for long. With the new aerodynamics package to be ready once we start to go to Europe (fifth round in Barcelona), we hope to go two seconds faster and start fighting the mid-table teams.”
Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne said that it was a fantastic result for a team who did not even go through wind tunnel testing.
“The team did the job as professional as they could and got the cars reliable. Two cars finish in our first race and I’m proud of what they have done,” he said.