Next to come under the microscope is Lotus and what a crazy season it has been for the team from Enstone. Kimi Raikkonen has proved to be a highly valuable asset to the team – too valuable in fact, while Romain Grosjean enjoyed a magnificent turn in form after the summer break as he claimed four podiums post Hungary to add to his two prior to the shutdown. While Lotus were at times, the closest challengers to Red Bull, the team struggled with inconsistencies during the early part of the year which meant that they were unable to catch Ferrari and Mercedes, despite their better form at the end of the year.
Excellent Winter Capped By Early Win
Rollercoaster Ride for Romain
However, following a Summer break within which he became a Father, his fortunes changed and he demoted Raikkonen in the team’s pecking order. While Kimi had become somewhat disinterested with the team after the announcement that he was Ferrari-bound for 2014, Romain dealt with the number one status well. It boosted his confidence and he was noticeably less cautious behind the wheel. A magnificent run of form saw the Frenchman collect four podiums in just five races between the Korean Grand Prix and his spectacular P2 in Austin. The most poignant of these podiums came in India when Grosjean climbed from P17 on the grid to P3, thanks to excellent tyre management and brilliant overtaking. We had seen Kimi conduct races of this ilk, yet India was the first weekend when Romain proved that he could match the departing Finn.
Boullier’s Most Challenging Season Yet
2013 was a monumentally troublesome year behind the scenes at Enstone. Finances have always been a burden for the team, yet with much of the investment into 2014 coming out of this year’s budget alongside the 2013 challenge the team were soon looking for major investment. The strength of the package and ability to fight at the head of the pack proved a costly venture for the team as success in Formula One comes at a price. In Abu Dhabi, Kimi Raikkonen announced that he had not been paid a single euro by the team all year and this came as little surprise. When Raikkonen originally signed for the team in 2012, the question remained as to whether Lotus could afford his wages – Ultimately this was answered this year.
Eric Boullier was bombarded with questions regarding payment of drivers throughout the year as it was speculated that Kimi had not been paid long before he publicly announced the situation. However, Boullier remained calm and collected in front of the media throughout all of the trials and tribulations experienced by Lotus in 2013, including the contentious decision to give Heikki Kovalainen his fellow countryman’s seat during his medical absence.
Quantum Motorsports Fiasco
Boullier’s job did not get any easier as the season came to an end. Lotus needed to find sponsorship in order to ensure that they would be on the grid in Melbourne for the start of 2014 and the deal needed to be secured before the close of 2013 to allow the team to operate through the winter months. In Abu Dhabi it was suggested that Quantum Motorsports had expressed an interest in investing in the team, with the Group owner Mansoor Ijaz meeting with Boullier that very same weekend. However, Boullier was then under fire as the financial legitimacy of the owner was questioned – something which Boullier failed to address in the Team Principal Press Conference in Sao Paulo.
However, the deal with Quantum was never signed, meaning that Boullier had to search for money by different means and a pay driver was the only option. Enter Pastor Maldonado. Pastor’s controversial move to Lotus provided Boullier with another challenging set of questions, yet has provided Lotus with the money they need. While Boullier was unable to sign Nico Hulkenberg, (his driver of choice) to replace Raikkonen, the mission to save Lotus from liquidation was accomplished.
In 2013, Lotus have once again overachieved. Considering their budget limitations, having the opportunity to legitimately challenge for P2 in the constructors is extraordinary. To finish P4 in such a turbulent year for the team will give them confidence heading into 2014, which they will hope can be a year where the on track action eclipses the politics at Enstone.