Amid increasing rumours about the financial viability of the Lotus F1 team, the team’s owner (via his Genii Capital concern), Gerard Lopez, has confirmed the team’s significant debt and spelled out that the investment discussions with the mysterious Quantum Motorsport group are dead. He added that Kimi Raikkonen, who walked out on the team two races from the end of the season, had “got part of his salary, and he will get the rest.”
Speaking to Michael Schmidt, from leading German motorsport magazine Auto Motor und Sport, Lopez confirms that the team’s debt is £114 million, of which £80 million is debt owed by the team to Genii. With the failure of the talks with Quantum at the end of 2013, despite Genii and Lotus allowing them to go public and speak to the media via the group’s figurehead Mansoor Ijaz, Genii once again had to fund the shortfall in budget.
“The budget gap from last season was again covered by us, ” he said. “The Quantum money never arrived. We have now killed the talks. For 2014, we will have at our disposal our new sponsor PDVSA’s budget. We will not generate any new debt. Genii is still 98 percent owned by us.” [The remaining 2% is owned by Andrew Ruhan who has placed one of his men, Matthew Carter, at Enstone as the new CEO of the F1 team, replacing Genii's Patrick Louis.]
“We have around 114 million pounds of debt,” added Lopez. “Of which more than £80 million debt is with ourselves (Genii). Why would we demand the repayment of these (internal) debts? That makes no sense. We reconciled the money as marketing expenses. At the moment, it is important that the team goes forward.”
Asked about a “brain drain” of engineers away from Lotus over the winter, Lopez said that the team had gone down by 80 people but has managed to recruit new engineers from many of his rival teams,
“Last year, we worked on three projects simultaneously. Overall, we had 580 people. Now we concentrate on the 2014 car and therefore the workforce came down to around 500. We have lost some engineers to the competition. But we got about five new engineers from them; from Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
“This is the carousel of Formula 1. It operates according to the Darwinian principle, ‘Survival of the Fittest’ Of course, in this way ideas migrate to the competition, but we learn from our new recruits too, what’s going on with the others.”
Asked why the Renault engine deal had not yet been announced, Lopez said that the team has been working on collaborations on hybrid solutions taking it beyond a simple customer engine supply deal and this had complicated and delayed the agreement and negotiations between them. He did not offer any time frame for this to be resolved.
There are also observations on the driver pairing of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado. Lopez believes that Grosjean is now one of the top four drivers in F1, while he argues that Maldonado can take the same journey as Grosjean and turn his mercurial speed into a consistent force,
“Two years ago I would have said , the pairing is quick, but explosive. Today it is different. Romain is for me one of the four fastest drivers, maybe even three. He is now strong in the head.
“Pastor must still take that last step. He is super fast. We know him very well. Pastor knows our team boss Eric Boullier from six years ago when he was manager of DAMS. Pastor must now go through the same phase as Romain. He needs to learn that a Grand Prix does not consist of a few fast laps, but of an entire weekend. He needs to control his speed better.”