By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Lotus had braced for a tough start to the Formula One season after troubled winter testing but were left mortified after Friday's opening day at the Australian Grand Prix.
Neither French driver Romain Grosjean nor his Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado troubled the timesheets in the first practice session due to reliability problems on a sunny day at Albert Park.
Grosjean finally posted a time after emerging deep into the second session but his best from just 12 laps of the street circuit was more than four seconds adrift of Mercedes pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.
It was also 18th out of the 19 cars that posted lap times, with only Briton Max Chilton coming in lower for strugglers Marussia.
"We experienced quite a few issues today," Lotus technical director Nick Chester said.
"We were delayed getting Romain's car out in the first session due to a gearbox fluid leak whilst Pastor had an electrical problem."
Only lowly Caterham fared worse than Lotus, with both Swede Marcus Ericsson and Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi unable to register a lap time in either session.
Along with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham are powered by Renault engines which performed abjectly during winter testing.
Red Bull breathed a sigh of relief on Friday as reigning champion Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo emerged from Friday's practice largely unscathed, but Lotus's continued struggles will place further pressure on the French manufacturer.
Renault Sport F1's deputy managing director Rob White visibly squirmed in his chair as he tried to grasp for positives.
"The first race weekend is always a testing time and of course this year we're feeling particularly anxious because we're not as well prepared as we would have liked to have been," he told reporters.
"Once again we're behind where we'd like to be and the task now is to try and gain ground.
"If we take a step back and look at the kind of troubles that have befallen us and our teams, we're behind where we should be in terms of times and in terms of our internal objectives.
"Independent of one's level of competitiveness, it's completely unacceptable to be coming to the first race as relatively unprepared as we are and without having run through all of the scenarios that we needed to."
Lotus finished fourth overall last season and won the season-opener in Australia with Kimi Raikkonen, who has since departed for Ferrari.
The British-based team struggled financially towards the end of last year and also lost principal Eric Boullier to McLaren, with chairman Gerard Lopez taking over the role.
Maldonado has stepped in for Raikkonen but was left frustrated in the garage as the Finn posted laps for Ferrari.
"I'm feeling really ready for tomorrow," Maldonado said.
"I spent a lot of today waiting to get in the car as we had some problems, which I think are still normal to have so early in the season with these new cars.
"It was clear that we're not the only ones to suffer on track and we have to work very hard, and maybe harder than the others, to try to catch up and be ready for tomorrow."
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)