Lotus drivers in 2014

The news that Kimi Raikkonen is leaving Lotus F1 Team to drive for Ferrari next year opens the way for a new driver at Enstone. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of interest from drivers because the car has been pretty competitive in the hands of Kimi. The smart money up to now has been on Nico Hulkenberg getting the job, but it seems that things have become rather more complicated of late.

Felipe Massa is on the market and desperate to prove that Ferrari has made a mistake by dropping him. The only place that he can really show that is by joining Lotus and doing the sort of job that we have seen Kimi do this year. Lotus, not surprisingly, looks on Massa with a degree of caution. He has had a long career and has won 11 races, but he is now 32 and he has not won a race for five years. Is he a better bet than The Hulk?

Of course, the drivers who want to join Lotus have to worry a little about why Kimi Raikkonen left Enstone.

“The reason why I left the team is purely on the money side,” he said. “They haven’t got my salary so it’s an unfortunate thing.”

In the finest traditions, Kimi has said it as it is and the team has been pretty quiet because there is not much that can be said. Raikkonen should know whether he has been paid or not. His remark underlines the rumours that have been been circulating for months about Lotus struggling to pay its suppliers. It is also fairly clear that the core of the engineering staff at Lotus has been shaken in the course of the last 12 months. Some seriously good engineers have been taking offers that have come from other teams. Despite this brain drain, Lotus remains pretty strong (at least for now) and Eric Boullier’s passion as a racer has helped to drive the team forwards. Some of Genii’s other appointments have not been as popular and this has clearly not helped the situation.

Lotus announced in June that it has sold 35 percent of the shares to an organisation called Infinity Racing Partners Ltd, but it is clear from Raikkonen’s decision that the money has still not arrived. When that cash does appear it will be used to clear some of the debt and to provide the team with running budget. Lotus does have substantial debt, but it is worth pointing out that around $30 million of that is guaranteed by the Proton car company in Malaysia (a deal leftover from the days when the team was still wanting to have a direct association with the Lotus car company) and so in real terms it does not really exist for the team. It is not their problem. It is reckoned that another $60 million is owed to Genii Capital, which has been loaning the team cash in the last year, waiting for sponsors or new investors to appear. As often happens with entrepreneurs, they may be asset-rich but cash-flow is always a problem, particularly when you have a business that eats money like F1 does. This can involve a lot of juggling and while Mangrove Capital, another of Lopez’s companies, is preparing the website-building firm Wix for an IPO in New York and there is talk of a huge real estate development deal in New York City, the need for hard cash remains the same, week in, week out.

The key question in F1 terms is whether or not the team has the budget it needs to clear up the shortfalls this year and provide a proper budget for 2014. In addition to the Infinity money, there has long been talk that Renault might agree to sponsor the team, in order to raise its visibility in F1. This makes a lot of sense, but that seems to be dependent on Renault dividing its F1 pie differently, rather than adding to the spend. The team could also find some traditional sponsorship, as there is plenty of room on the car. It might even consider taking a driver if there is sponsorship following him. So rumours that Santander might be willing to throw some money at Lotus to run Felipe Massa, because of its Brazilian markets, should perhaps be taken seriously. Added to that, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is pretty keen to keep Brazil happy and without Massa the sport would be without a Brazilian driver for the first time since 1970, when Emerson Fittipaldi first appeared in F1. That would be a shock to the system.

So while Lotus might want Hulkenberg, Massa also makes some sense. Having said that, it is not necessarily a case of one or the other. It could be both. Romain Grosjean has still to provide conclusive proof that he is the right man for the job at Lotus. Obviously it does no harm that he is French (Renault and Total like that), but if they are not willing to kick in cash, their man could find himself looking for a seat when the music stops. There is also another scenario that we have heard mentioned which is that if Grosjean does not do the job in the last races of this year, the French could switch to another candidate. The obvious choice would be Jean-Eric Vergne, who has little to gain from sticking around with Scuderia Toro Rosso now that Dan Ricciardo has got the second seat at Infiniti Red Bull Racing. There are some who think that Vergne is better than Grosjean.

So these are the variables involved. There may be others. There have been some stories suggesting that Pastor Maldonado might try to switch from Williams to Lotus, but it is doubtful that this would work. Williams is confident that even if Pastor does not want to drive for Williams, he cannot move the PDVSA cash elsewhere. It could be done if PDVSA negotiated a settlement on the contract and then found extra cash to pay Lotus but that would involve even more money being spent and the government in Venezuelan would be unwise to waste too much in public at a time when the country’s economy is not doing well and opposition to the government is rising. We will have to see how things work out.

“Nothing is finalised,” Hulkenberg said in Singapore. “Nothing has been decided at this point. We are trying to sort out all the options and then to come up with a good decision for the future.”

If he does move to Lotus then the next domino to be discussed will be Sauber…

73 thoughts on “Lotus drivers in 2014

  1. Joe, is there chance Hulkenberg can end up at McLaren? How does McLaren’s delay in what they say are mere formalities fit in with all this?

        1. If I was McLaren I’d be chasing Alonso hard. It’s a bit odd that they’re taking so long to sign up Button & Perez for next year. If they were completely happy with them you’d think they’d be signed by now. Dreaming but an Alonso/Hulkenberg pairing at McLaren would be good to see.

  2. Oh, for the days of Rob Walker, when all we had to think about was, which was the quicker driver and the fastest car. (smiley)

  3. I’ve been concerned that Hulkenberg might end up as one of those with huge potential that through one thing or another never gets into a really top car. I think it would be a great pity if Massa gets in his way by getting the Lotus seat, though perhaps the financial tribulations of Lotus might shift the balance back towards Sauber as a better place to be next year. Is the financial and technical risk for next year greater at Lotus or Sauber do you think?

  4. I would suggest that logic dictates Hulkenberg for next year, (Young, fast and hungry) unless you think he cant give the feedback to the engineers that they got from Kimi’s vast experience. In which case you partner Hulkenberg with Masa and give Grosjean the boot! In practice it will all come down to money. Who will generate the most for the team in income vs. lost longer term revenue from not being at the top end of the field. They have really lucked out that McLaren is off form this year. Betting on that for a second year for constructors money is not smart.

    1. If money isn’t the issue then Hulkenberg would be a better bet for me. He is fast, reliable and hasn’t come close to his potential yet. Massa on the other hand looks like he’s on the downward slide. Just three podiums in three years and no wins for five years while having a factory Ferrari under him. Those stats won’t be impressing anyone. I’m amazed it’s taken Ferrari this long to replace him.

  5. Here’s my somewhat condensed view of the Silly Season so far;

    1) Kimi to Ferrari – So much for my batting a 1000 this year .. but honestly … sticking those two mega egos ( Alonso and Kimi ) on the same team is tantamount to trying to stuff the Hindenburg and the Goodyear blimp in a hanger sized to fit a small weather ballon . I’ll go out on a limb and say this one’s gonna come to tears before mid 2014 … with Alonso being the one shedding those tears

    2) Massa – Sadly the man has been somewhat of a shadow of his former self ever since recovering from that freak accident . A genuine talent … sidelined by circumstances . Unfortunate doesn’t even come close .

    3) Lotus – In light of Kimi’s revelations about not being paid … is anyone of note genuinely serious about moving to Lotus ? I sure as heck wouldn’t be despite the competitiveness of the car

    4) Maldonado – Presently Venezuela is up to its neck in financial difficulties and controversies …. so the main question with Pastor being …. Will there be any money to keep Maldonado going in F1 ? I wouldn’t bet on it ( I know on my side o’ the fence Gustavo Dudamel .. being dependent on Venezuelan funds as well …his future is looking a bit tenuous right now )

    So literally IMO …. Silly Season is even sillier than would appear at 1st , 2nd .. or even 25th glance . Abject Madness might come closer this year .

  6. Going back to your Andretti post the other day, here could be an opportunity for Andretti to get into F1 to one degree or another, via Lotus. Andretti Autosport (AA) has the uncanny ability to procure sponsorship, to the point that at times they’ve run five cars when their main rivals, Penske and Ganassi had backed down to two and three entries, due to lack of attainable sponsorship. I’ll grant you that F1 is a completely different market on an entirely different scale, however, any way one looks at it, AA’s sponsorship procuring team is second to none and by utilizing their services and talent, be it as a team partner, or as a consultant, could result in a foot in the door for AA and a bunch of questions answered for Lotus. File under “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    1. If they are that good then Andretti should be able to raise the cash to do the job properly and not come in buying someone else’s car. If they ahve the cash they should buy a team.

      1. Well, I’m one who goes for the learn to walk before you can run philosophy. Going into a team as a consultant for attaining sponsorship is a good way to learn the ropes with a safety net. So, if say in this scenario, Lotus were to go belly up, they won’t be part of the legal shrapnel that goes along with it. To insure payment, the funds they secure for Lotus, or any other team, go through them, they take their cut and and send the rest to the team. … maybe I should start my own business? HA HA HA! 😀

  7. Engines for next year are going to eat a big chunk of any team’s budget, particularly when they are of a new spec and have the potential to fail in a spectacular manner in the early days. This will obviously increase pressure on teams such as Lotus and others down the field who are also verging on boracic In particular Force India appears to be defying gravity.

  8. If Lotus couldn’t pay Raikkonen, it suggests they probably haven’t started paying for much development of the 2014 car.

    Being that 2014 is a year of revolutionary rules changes, those who haven’t started heavy development aren’t likely to be much in the way of contenders.

    Perhaps Massa’s career would be better served by taking a year of sabbatical then fighting for a place in a team with few prospects?

    1. You jump to a lot of conclusions. Every F1 teams knows that engineering comes first. Without that money is harder to find.

      1. Despite yesterday’s revelation, Raikkonen had frequently implied that he was far more concerned with Lotus ability to develop a competitive 2014 car than his late pay.

        Raikkonen’s departure, along with the most of the sharp end of the Lotus engineering staff suggests my conclusions aren’t much of a jump.

          1. Eric Boullier: “We have obviously favoured our people working in Enstone which is understandable I think, obviously the car development because this is the essence of Formula One if you want to keep competing.”

  9. Joe, if Massa went to Lotus do you think that the easier going atmosphere of the team would let him revive his career, or is it too late? Assuming of course that Lotus has a competitive car next year.

  10. I find it quite interesting and coincidental that both Ferrari’s whipping boys were Brazilian and have both won 11 races.

    Apart from that i believe that Felipe will be heading out of Formula 1, as none of the remaining places left for him are not going to be competative. Lotus have lost too much in intelligent people power as well as money trouble. And Sauber are really just staying as Good midfielders. That really just leaves a possible backmarker team.
    Felipe deserves better, but he partly made his own bed in this affair so he’ll just have to live with that and move to newer pastures. Perhaps in the States or Dtm, maybe even Join Webber in sportscars.

  11. So Kimi puts his life at risk simply for what he loves doing, Lotus profits enormously in return, and Lotus don’t have the ounce of courage, forthrightness, or whatever to even publicly comment….

    1. It is not about courage. It is about money. If they don’t have the cash, they don’t have the cash and they have nothing to gain by saying anything.

  12. If Hulkenberg gets screwed yet again due to other drivers bringing money with them, all the hype about F1 being about “the best” is little but hogwash.

      1. This comment reminds me of the “love it or leave it” attitude of Nixon supporters during the Vietnam era, by which they meant Americans should leave the nation if they disapproved of policy.

        I trust that you (of all people) know that loving the sport is not the same thing as approving of its disreputable aspects.

        For a sport that claims to be the pinnacle of motorsport excellence, pay drivers are a stain. Excusing it on the grounds of longstanding history is no excuse at all, as many disreputable things have been around for eons.

        Of course, if F1 dropped the claim of being the pinnacle of performance excellence, having pay drivers would be unpleasant but not quite so disreputable.

        1. I don’t understand why you are getting worked up about this. There have always been a few drivers in F1 who were supported by sponsors. It is the nature of the beast. I would contend that we have never had such a high level of ability right through the F1 field. There may be some pay-drivers, but they have all been winners in the junior categoroes and indeed in GP2. The only arguable cases are Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta, who came to F1 by way of Japan and DTM respectively, in part because they each had support that was interesting to Force India. However, neither one is really seen as a pay-driver and nor should they be, as their performances in F1 have shown that they both deserve to be there. The rest are either successful paid drivers (Ricciardo, Vergne, Bottas, Hulkenberg) or they are men who have won GP2 races: Grosjean (14 wins), Maldonado (10 wins), Perez (7 wins), Van der Garde (five wins), Gutierrez (four wins), Pic (four wins), Bianchi (two wins) and Chilton (two wins).

          1. The standard of the minor teams and drivers in F1 right now is high. The guys in the Marussias have to get within 7% of the best time in Q1. They can’t be that bad. We had much worse (drivers and teams) in the early 90s.

    1. I think Hulk is a capable driver but not on the same plane as Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel. So your comment about “the best” is hogwash, especially considering that Alonso helped to bring serious funding via Santander. That’s all part of the business now (same as it ever was).

  13. The Proton money – or the loan they gave the team is actually secured by a floating charge over all the assets – (equipment – fixtures & fitting) in Enstone. That was the position about 10 days ago when I last looked at Companies House. There is also a time limit on the loan. So they either roll it over, if possible, or pay it off.
    Santander needs to reduce their capital expenditure. The UK – IPO of their business here is still looking for a date to float, as the parent company, in Spain, needs to beef up its balance sheet to meet the new Basel 3 Banking capital requirements. So a float of the UK business is fast becoming a forced issue. There is a fair amount of talk about Santander reducing there involvement with McLaren, prior to this capital rising – float. Need to keep the investors happy.

    As you know how the Concorde agreement works, Enstone, given their position over the last two years, should be in for a pretty good pay day from Bernie, unless they have already taken an advance on that money. That might cover some of the budget they need.

    Another question needs to be asked, would Santander want to be linked to Enstone, even if they are winning races, yet have this image of financial black hole and trouble with the management – owners of the team? Not so sure it is image they would want to be associated with. But on the other hand if Renault somehow appears to be involved in the team, then maybe the credibly they would bring, might make it work. Banks into day’s market can’t be seen to be working – supporting business with questionable business practises and financial troubles. Enstone has those by the bucket load right now.

    One now guess that Massa will be out to showcase his talents over the next 7 races, and find a new home.

      1. I don’t think anyone really cares too much about drivers that bring cash in the way of sponsorship etc, then it’s all about bringing value.

        The problems come with drivers like Suzuki/Nakajima/Diniz etc that are clearly there to fund a second driver seat and team.

        Maldonado, being the driver that brings the most money with him AND wins a bloody grand prix…it’s a bizarre mix.

  14. I quite like the idea that a driver cannot stay with a team for more than 3 seasons. It would probably be impractical but its interesting to see how drivers cope in different cars and different environments. It would probably result in the top teams just swapping between themselves but it is just an idea that is going around my head at the moment.

  15. Joe,

    Great article as usual. Besides Santander also Renault has very huge interest in the Brazilian market. Brazilian Globo TV also needs a Brazilian driver to help promoting the F1, can help not with money but maybe with contact to other sponsors. And if Renault don’t mind splitting the partnership with Total, Petrobras could also come back to F1.

    1. Is a team with two different (competing) petroleum companies on its sponsor roster and livery likely? [i.e. Total (France) and Petrobras (Brasil)]

      I can’t recall that type of Jekyll and Hyde sponsor standoff being held in the same industry on a car before. Any precedents? Any reason to belive Total and Petrobras would go for it? JF

      1. I think, or assume that Gusz meant ‘splitting UP their partnership with Total’ i.e. having Petrobas replace them on the car. That may not bother Total as they’re partnered with Renault at Red Bull who give them exposure globally that the team branded as Lotus could never dream of.

        1. Thanks Nik, you’re right and I forgot the UP.
          Back in the day Petrobras had an agreement to join Honda for 2009, but didn’t want to go with Brawn as they want to partner a consumer car company (with a plant in Brazil). Honda fitted the bill as Renualt (if it come back as a constructor) does now.
          Both Renault and Santander are Globo TV F1 sponsors as Mastecard, TIM and Schincariol (Kirin).

  16. Could Hulkenberg return to Force India? It would keep Merc happy, a German in a german powered car. I guess it would be at the expense of Sutil which would be a shame as I must be one of the few people who rates him!

  17. I am left wondering if there was there a contract between Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus, or whomever?
    I suspect it cant have been for great amounts, or it was for various bonus and points incentive payments that would cost way to much to go to court and recover, in F1 terms.
    It would seem that Steve Roberson has not done well by Kimi to the extent that he and his driver cant get paid what is owed. However, he may have done very well to have gotten Kimi out from a team that sounds very “dodgie”
    Very cavalier to suggest that “$30 million of that is guaranteed by the Proton car company in Malaysia (a deal leftover from the days when the team was still wanting to have a direct association with the Lotus car company) and so in real terms it does not really exist for the team” Someone, somewhere is going to have to pay $30 Million at some point, unless they are planning a BK, not a good way of doing business in any situation.

    1. Kimi has been paid his retainer, which in normal terms is what we would call a salary. What he is owned is the performance – bonus related part of the contract.
      If you think back 2 years, it was a good deal from both parties. There were unanswered question marks about his motivation, so the owners, paid out a sum of money per each point scored. One report has put that point at a value of 50,000 Euros per point scored.
      Of course what we don’t know is does he also collect the race win amount, that the race promoter puts up for the win, and 2nd and 3rd position.

      Some teams like Williams give that to the drivers, but put them on a really low retainer, where as McLaren, pay a high salary, but keep all the race winnings and the trophies. The amount that each promoter put up per race meeting as prize money seems to change, and is kept very much top secret. One way to look at it is to see what Damon Hill made, when he was reported in the Sunday Times Rich list, (a year after he retired from racing) given the years that he drove for Williams and the number of wins he had. That was a number of years ago, and fewer races, and I think prize money has gone up since then.

      You need to remember the big money is in the constructors championship, and that means the points that a driver scores. These amounts can be bigger than the amount a team takes in on sponsorship. Also some sponsors pay out on a driver winning a race. Very much like in Tennis and golf do for example. This is because of the additional press / media coverage it brings to the sponsor.

      I think Kimi will need to wait until the end of the season, and see what Enstone get in the way of money from Bernie, to where they finish, and then put in a claim for his portion, and one thinks maybe hope for the best.

        1. Joe,

          Kimi has – as of today, has 134 points on the table and at 50,000 euro’s per point, which is around 6.7M euro’s owned to him. But then again I have no idea if he is paid more for a podium, on top of the prize fund that a Promoter puts up?
          Plus of course he could be on a scale, per point. Which would make the outstanding around a figure that has been talked about, and this is closer to 11M euro’s owned to him.

          Plus we don’t really know about the previous year, and does he keep all the prize money for those 2 wins?

          But yes the outstanding sum is pretty substantial.

          Shame on Enstone, because all the guy wants to do is go racing and mix it with the best and win. He has fulfilled his part of the deal and got the car home, in the points and win races. They the management have failed on their part of the deal.

  18. It would be a terrible pity if Hulkenberg missed out on a decent car once again, and if Massa were rewarded once again for his awful mediocrity. Money talks, I guess.

    1. The history of F1 is littered with drivers who were well capable of driving an F1 car but have had their chances scuppered, either deliberately or otherwise, in scenarios such as this. Some very capable drivers were never even able to get into F1.

  19. Thanks Joe, an extremely well researched and informative article, covering all the bases that the “cut and paste monkeys” you rail against have completely missed. This is proper investigative journalism, and any journalist in any newspaper should take note of this.

  20. Could Nico stay at Sauber? if Lotus are in as poor financial state as we all believe could Sauber be a better option? I have heard the rumours about the team struggling but they’re linked with Ferrari who are most likely to have a driver change in 2015 as far as I can see & McLaren have turned him down once already.

  21. Joe, I’m wondering if there is a domino to fall at Sauber at all. Apparently they’re so desperate for cash they’re considering to put a 18 year old in the car (Sergey Sirotkin), can they afford to drop the Telmex money Gutierrez brings as well? Seems to me they may be stuck with 2 paydrivers – even if Hulkenberg has nowhere else to go!

  22. Silly season just got sillier. Eason in this morning’s Times saying there are rumours about Alonso returning to Mclaren.

  23. Hulkenberg-Massa could be a pretty decent line-up.

    Also, any comment on the BBC’s story about McLaren wanting Alonso back?

  24. If Lotus passes Hulkenberg for Massa their image will decidedly shift from that of a “contender” to that of a team just trying to survive/tread water team. From there it will be a slippery slope to being irrelevant with little curb appeal. Might as well throw the dice on the vastly superior Hulkenberg (it is ludicrous to even ask the question of who is better). Nothing brings money like success. Felipe seems like a nice guy, but he is dead weight even if he brings some short term cash flow. Brazil is a macho country. I can’t believe that a second-tier driver generates much excitement in their country, especially without the unrivaled glamor and exposure that the prancing horse brand brings. As for Grosjean, he can be quick, but he is clearly not championship material. Better to swap him for the Hulk if they absolutely have to have one cash-flow injection driver. I can understand the survive at all costs impetus for owners who are F1 lifers like Peter Sauber, but I can’t see what the motivation for Lotus’ owners would be to just get along rather than “go for it.”

  25. I really hope Lotus does not go down the Williams slope. It’s been great having them compete for wins occasionally and podiums frequently. Grosjean is quick and still developing – he’s got potential. They must put Hulkenberg in that seat to keep moving forward.

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