The Enstone exodus has claimed its latest greatest scalp in the form of Eric Boullier today. Perhaps it was an inevitability given the tumultuous situation that is slowly unraveling for us all to see at Lotus, but it was a shock nevertheless. Something is up at the team, and has been for some time.
Since the middle of the year, there has been a slow and gradual movement towards the exit door by a number of high-profile personnel. James Allison’s return to Ferrari was perhaps expected, but still a surprise. Dirk de Beer followed, allowing us to commit a crime against journalism with this headline. A few days ago, Ciaron Pilbeam – who had left Red Bull for Lotus only at the end of 2012 – confirmed that he too was leaving for McLaren. But with the exit of Eric Boullier, the problem may have escalated into a crisis.
The funny thing is that Boullier was only defending his position a couple of weeks before Christmas. A rumour – from quite what source is unknown – began to do the rounds saying that he would be leaving for Force India. However, Boullier sought to make everything crystal clear and sent out a tweet saying that he had been in no discussions with any other team, and that he was totally committed to Lotus.
So when today’s news broke saying that he had left Lotus with immediate effect, the signs that the problems are worsening grew further. There’s quite an interesting correlation between Boullier’s position at Lotus and Ross Brawn’s role at Mercedes. Although the way in which the teams are financed couldn’t be more different, both men have become pressurized by a number of high-profile and powerful figures. At Mercedes, it is more structured (even if a ‘structure’ appears to be unclear): Brawn, Lowe, Wolff and Lauda were all there in a defined role. The issue was that everyone appeared to have authority over each other.
At Lotus though, there are a number of names, yet it’s unclear if some of them have any involvement with the team at all. Boullier was team principal, Gerard Lopez was co-chairman (so, owner); throw in Mansoor Ijaz, Andrew Ruhan, Patrick Louis and Matthew Carter, and it all becomes a bit messy. Because of the financial saga surrounding the team, it has been difficult to truly understand who is calling the shots. Perhaps that is what forced Boullier out?
The Frenchman’s involvement at Lotus has not been a recent thing. With a big interest in DAMS, he has played a major part in Romain Grosjean’s career, having also been the driver’s manager. Although he’s set to lead Lotus in 2014 and widely regarded as one of the brightest young talents on the grid, that sensational second half of the season may have just saved Grosjean’s career. Without Boullier, would he still be in that seat? What if this had blown up six months earlier? Timing, as it has a funny knack of doing in Formula One, has been crucial here.
Where can Lotus go from here, then? We need to be sure of financial stability which, according to Gerard Lopez, has already been achieved. The deal with Quantum has been on and off more times than a workman’s kettle, so with that, it’s best to just step back and wait for a final decision and not get drawn into the whirlpool of speculation. We also need to know the real reason behind the decision not to go to Jerez. Is it a sign of a bigger problem? Is the 2014 car behind schedule?
Once again though, Lotus has used its seamless PR machine to try and plaster over the cracks. Boullier’s departure was announced in a simple statement that only briefly mentioned him in the final line, with Gerard Lopez saying: “We thank Eric for all his hard work over the past four years and we are confident we can continue to fight as one of the top teams in Formula One over the seasons ahead.” Rather annoyingly, the team timed its release of a render image of the E22 car to coincide with McLaren’s unveiling of the MP4-29.
Ah yes, McLaren. Could Monsieur Boullier be heading to Woking? Forget Kimi Raikkonen (another Lotus departee) moving to Ferrari; Boullier joining McLaren could trump that as being the most surprising and perhaps the best signing heading into the 2014 season.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Lotus F1 Team.