29 August 2013
Sponsor, Renault key to Lotus future
Gerard Lopez reveals that he is looking for both a major backer and greater technical ties with Renault as he bids to move Lotus even closer to the front of the F1 pack.
Lotus has admitted that it is hoping to attract both a major sponsor and renewed interest from Renault as it bids to keep Kimi Raikkonen on board for a concerted championship push in 2014 and beyond.
While team owner Gerard Lopez has played down rumours of financial strife at Enstone, pointing out that much of the operation's debt is to his own Genii Capital concern, he concedes that outside investment would not go amiss, particularly as it attempts to retain the services of Raikkonen, who has been a target for Red Bull and Ferrari during the summer.
Lopez and team boss Eric Boullier continue to insists that the Finn remains a potential fixture in next year's line-up, despite ongoing speculation that he has not been paid in full for his involvement in returning the team to the front of the F1 grid, and Lopez remains sceptical that he would ever form an 'all-star' line-up at one of Lotus' rivals.
“I don't know whether he would actually go together with Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso,” Lopez told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, before explaining why he is holding out for a big sponsor. The much-hyped deal with Infinity Racing Partners remains unsigned, although both Lopez and Boullier are confident that the delay won't last forever.
“We continue to look for partners to join the team [as], first of all, I want to ensure that the team continues to be well-funded. Whether [Genii] gets the money back now or later, we have to see. It's not about getting money back quickly now. [The total debt] is €120m, but four-fifths of it we owe to ourselves, to Genii, because we do not sponsor the team but finance it through loans.
“We could have signed a cheap contract but we think, from the performance point of view, we need a sponsor who pays really well. We don't want to sign something now for three, four, five years that we will regret later.”
With Lotus continuing to push hard on the technical front – a long wheelbase version of the E21 is due for the next race at Monza – Lopez insists that the team is 'well placed' to push for honours next season, but admits that he is pursuing even closer links with former owner Renault in a bid not only to tackle Red Bull – which runs similar Renault engines but badges them as Infinitis – but also keep Raikkonen onside.
"We understand what Kimi is waiting for, particularly on the technical side,” he was quoted as telling Russia's F1News.run, "He is interested in what our relationship will be with Renault next year, things like that. The financial side is not a problem. What we are discussing is options that will allow us to establish a closer collaboration with Renault. Nothing more, nothing less."
Despite insisting that 'the chances that [Raikkonen] will stay are very high', Lopez also admits that he does not expect to be short of alternatives should his prize asset decide to go elsewhere for 2014.
”When you have a very good car, you always have options in F1,” he pointed out, underlining his confidence in Lotus' reshuffled technical team, “We are very close to Renault, so we know we will have a competitive car next year, and there will always be drivers who want to be with us.”
Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado are both being talked of as potential replacements for Raikkonen should the Finn move on next season.
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