Lotus has been in dire straights for most of the 2015 season. Their troubles are well known, and are mostly monetary. They have seen extremely limited development since the mid season, and only brought their new nose to the testing days post Abu Dhabi.
Pastor’s race seat was put in question during these tribulations, but on Sept 20th, Lotus announced that he would be staying on for 2016, along with the 50 million his sponsor PDVSA brings. The Venezuelan oil company had been withholding payment of the 2015 payments to Lotus because the team’s future was in question. They also saw no need to pay up front for 2016 until there was some guarantee that the team would still exist.
Renault’s announcement this week that the Lotus buyout is finally happening, has calmed troubled waters, and appears to solidify the team’s position in next year’s championship. However, Carlos Ghosn today made it clear neither Jolyn Palmer or Pastor Maldonado are guaranteed race seats for 2016 just because Lotus signed contracts with them.
Ghosn was asked by L’Equipe whether a French driver would represent Renault next year, his response was less than cryptic. “We will wait a few weeks. I refer to a meeting in January 2016, when we will explain the organisation, goals, strategy and we will also talk about drivers and partners.”
Renault will certainly have done a deal with the Lotus creditors and those holding contractual relations with Genii which sees them taking at best a haircut on the debt. Further, Lotus deal with Palmer will almost certainly have been based on the premise that Genii continued to operate the Enstone team in 2016.
Pastor has been a vital cash windfall for Lotus, and was similarly a big funding aspect of the Williams team budget. His PDVSA money has contributed around 20% of the teams annual budget, but as a scorer of points in the constructors’ championship, Pastor has been found wanting.
Maldonado has competed in 95 races, miraculously took one pole, one win, and scored 76 total points, averaging 0.8 points per race. Since 2012, he has only outscored his teammate once, scoring 45 points to Bruno Senna’s 31 in the 2012 season. In 2013 he was beaten by Bottas, who scored 4 points to Pastor’s 1.
Renault would clearly prefer a French driver for their car, even though historically that has not always been the case. Yet the name, Jean-Eric Vergne appears to be back on the agenda.
JEV has 58 starts, no podiums, no wins, and 51 total points scored, (ave 0.9 points per race). In 2012, Jev outscored Ricciardo by 6 points (16 to 10), though in 2013 Ricciardo outscored JEV by 7 points (20 to 13), and in 2014 JEV outscored Kvyat by 14 points (22 to 8).
Points are not the only aspect a team needs to consider when hiring a driver however. Marketability in todays world, is equal if not more important than the points one brings. in this sense, JEV is far more marketable for a French auto manufacturer than Pastor despite his big budget.
Lotus have also signed up Joylon Palmer as a replacement for Romain Grosjean, who is off to Has for year before being offered the chance to replace Kimi at Ferrari. Palmer contributed around $400,000 for each of the 13 FP1 sessions he competed in this year and so he too has the financial support Renault may be looking for.
Mr. Ghosn has also shown himself to be realistic as far as expectations for his newly re-acquired team. “Given the high motivation of our employees in Enstone and Viry, we will take three years to become competitive.”
With this in mind, youth and future development must be a high priority for Renault, which places drivers like Palmer and Vergne in a much better position than it does for poor Pastor.
Unlike Sauber who found themself with four drivers contracted for two seats, Renault will have ensured as part of their acquisition of Lotus, they are not bound to any debt or contractual arrangements previously made by the Enstone team owners.