Its not just Red Bull who are engineless at present for 2016, but Lotus too have no F1 power unit supplier confirmed. Of course if Renault decide to acquire the Enstone team, their engine conundrum will be instantly resolved. Yesterday Matthew Carter stated the letter of intent to acquire Lotus provided by Renault confirmed the blueprints for a French 2016 engine in order to allow the Enstone team to begin designing their car for next year.
However, if Renault do not acquire Enstone and both Red Bull teams refuse a Renault engine supply for 2016, will Renault continue as an F1 engine supplier just for the Lotus team? And will the Lotus team even exists following the winding up petitions they face from HMRC?
This is all part of the rich tapestry of the F1 engine merry-go-round which despite Christian Horner’s revisionist view of matters, began with Red Bull seeking a dissolution of their contract with Renault for 2016. Horner has been implying recently the current engine debacle began when Renault suggested they may pull out of Formula One. Who started that particular fight is now irrelevant and until who will be in bed with who for 2016 is resolved a whole host of other issues remain on hold or unresolved.
This was the reason Romain Grosjean decided to jump ship and drive for Haas F1 in 2016. The French F1 driver confirmed he would have been happy to remain in Enstone and drive for the newly acquired team, but the uncertainty of the status quo drove Grojean to ensure he would definitely be on the F1 grid in 2016.
Last night Lotus made the interesting step of announcing Grosjean’s replacement will be last year’s GP2 winner – Joylon Palmer. The English driver was clearly delighted and team owner Gerald Lopez commented: “We’ve seen Jolyon’s hard work and talent this season in the way he’s approached his third driver role and he is a really popular choice for the team. As well as having a great future ahead of him behind the wheel, Jolyon is an intelligent and highly marketable asset to the team.
“He deserves this opportunity, and everyone at Enstone is excited to see what he can achieve next year.”
Whilst all this is great news for Palmer, the timing of this announcement increases the chance that Renault are not intending to acquire Lotus from Genii. A Renault F1 works team without a French driver is inconceivable, particularly given the fact that there are such drivers around more than competent for the job.
Grosjean has gone, but Jean-Eric Vergne has been mooted as a strong candidate for a drive in any Renault F1 works team. He has 58 GP starts behind him and his performances stacked up well against his Toro Rosso team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, who is now the ‘lead’ Red Bull driver.
Having seen the Sauber predicament at the start of this season where more drivers than race seats were signed to the team, neither Lotus or Renault are likely to make. Maldonado claims he has a water tight contract for 2016, so is this driver announcement a sign the Renault acquisition of Enstone is off?
Were Renault to acquire Lotus from Genii – all contracts in UK law become transferred to the new owners, and so it would appear Renault are now stuck with a driver pairing which would not be their first choice – and no French driver for a French team.
One other solution would be to allow Lotus to be declared bankrupt, then all future contracts are not necessarily binding to anyone who acquires the team from its insolvent state. The problem is that time is short for a bankruptcy to be enacted and for Renault to agree terms with all the creditors allowing a phoenix to arise from the ashes. Further, even bankruptcy does not dissolve completely Maldonado and Palmer possible claims against the new owners.
The Joylon Palmer announcement just appears to add to the confusion which abounds over much of the future involving Renault and Lotus. Though on the face of it would appear to make a Renault acquisition of Lotus look even more remote.