Multiple sources are reporting that there are redundancies at Lotus F1 Team in Enstone, with around 30 staff being laid off as the team tightens its belt. Lotus did remarkably well on the race track last year, finishing fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, thanks to the efforts of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The team started the 2013 season with a staff of around 500, but there was disenchantment early on with the departure of James Allison, who was unhappy when a number of senior management figures were laid off by the owners, Genii Capital, which was trying to cut back on costs. Although the team did pick up some sponsorship last year, the owners took on more loans in order to pay for the season, and in the summer the team missed the pay-roll. This is a disastrous thing for any racing team as it undermines the confidence of the staff, many of whom need their salaries to be paid on time and do not have financial reserves available if this does not happen. The result of that was that more staff began to look for jobs elsewhere.
It seems that the team has lost around 70 people in the last six months and this means that plans to take the payroll down to 400 people requires only 30 lay-offs. Having said that a 20 percent reduction in highly-skilled staff is a major hit for any competitive organisation and it will be interesting to see where Lotus is in the F1 pecking order when the new car finally appears. Morale in the team is not good with the failure of the Quantum takeover bid, the hiring of Pastor Maldonado, who is seen by most in F1 as a pay-driver, and the departure of team principal Eric Boullier. The fear is that without racers in charge the team will never get anywhere and people will continue to depart when other jobs become available elsewhere. While it is often a strength to be in the motorsport cluster in Britain, it can also be a disadvantage as staff can find new jobs rapidly if things start going wrong, which means that a team in that is in trouble loses staff rapidly. Enstone is just 10 miles from Caterham’s base at Leafield, 12 miles from Marussia in Banbury, 15 miles from the Toro Rosso wind tunnel in Bicester and 20 miles from Mercedes AMG Petronas in Brackley. All of these organisations have been recruiting of late, as has Williams F1, which is 25 miles away. To add to the problem Wirth Research in Bicester is also providing job opportunities. The firm, run by former Benetton technical director (an ex-Enstone man) Nick Wirth, designs and develops the ARX sports car chassis for Honda Performance Development in the US, and also works with Honda in IndyCar racing.
If Lotus F1 is going to reverse the current slide there needs to be an injection of considerable money, plus a restructuring to put in place managers who are trusted and who understand what is required to be successful in F1. The current people in charge may understand business, but that is not enough.