Lotus heads to this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix at the center of attention over its future driving lineup.
With Kimi Raikkonen having made his mind up to leave the team and join Ferrari, and other front-runners Red Bull and Mercedes sorted for 2014, Lotus is now the team that has the most desirable vacancy for next year.
While its choices are not as extensive as they could have been earlier in the campaign, as a number of teams having already locked down their drivers for next year, the team still has plenty of good options. Given its attractive status, there is no pressure on Lotus to quickly finalize its choices.
“After the second Ferrari seat we are lucky enough to be the next team on the list, so people can afford to wait,” team principal Eric Boullier said after the Italian Grand Prix. “We can afford this luxury choice.”
THE LOTUS OPTIONS
The intensity of F1’s silly season has shifted down the grid order this year, with first Red Bull and then Ferrari grabbing the attention of the world’s media. Now it will be Lotus’ turn to become the center of focus as it weighs up its driver plans.
With next year’s change of regulations set to produce a huge upheaval for every team, consistency is vital and that is good news for incumbent Romain Grosjean. Although the Frenchman had a tough start to the season, he has managed to get things in order more recently and has emerged as a regular threat to Raikkonen.
As well as the team being convinced more and more that he is worth sticking with for a third season, there could be commercial benefits to keeping Grosjean, especially if Lotus can persuade engine supplier Renault and oil partner Total to up their involvement.
Boullier has talked of a desire to find a “clever” partnership with Renault, which could even extend as far as the French car manufacturer becoming a title sponsor.
“We want to find a better partnership that would maybe suit us, and obviously would suit them more than the current one,” he said.
Should Grosjean stay, the favorite to replace Raikkonen is Nico Hulkenberg, who despite a difficult time at Sauber this season has impressed when given chance. But longtime Ferrari man Felipe Massa is pushing hard to keep his F1 career alive and wants to beat Hulkenberg to the seat.
While team sources suggest that the current most likely lineup will be Hulkenberg and Grosjean, a strong end to the campaign for Massa — allied to whatever commercial incentives he can bring — could change the picture.
RETURN TO FORM IS FOCUS
While much of the Lotus talk in Singapore will revolve around its future driver line-up, the team’s key task will be getting itself back near the front in the race. It has endured a challenging time in Belgium and Italy, with Raikkonen’s title chances effectively slipping away with retirement at Spa and poor qualifying at Monza.
The Finn is now 88 points adrift of Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ standings and knows only freak circumstances will secure him the crown. However, that will not dampen his nor the team’s desire to secure individual race wins, and this weekend’s night race marks the return of the type of circuit that the Lotus has excelled on in the past.
Boullier is confident that the nature of the circuits coming up will help.
“From Singapore we will be back with the high-downforce version of our car, which we know is working better,” he said referring to its struggles on the lower-downforce Spa and Monza circuits. “So we should be able to score points, big points, but the fight is going to be tough.”
Lotus already has development upgrades in the pipeline for Singapore and Korea, with the latter venue likely to see the return of the long-wheelbase car that Raikkonen tried out in Italy.