F1 » 11 October 2013
Japanese Grand Prix: Lotus admits money the main block on Hulkenberg deal
Nico Hulkenberg - and Felipe Massa - remain in the frame at Lotus for 2014, provided the team can find the backing to hire them.
Nico Hulkenberg's chances of joining Lotus next season would appear to hinge more on whether the team can raise the finance to pay him, rather than whether the German's height and weight can be accommodated.
Hulkenberg has found himself at the centre of renewed concerns about talent being bypassed by teams in search of the lightest option for the cockpit, but remains high on the Lotus shopping list, along with Felipe Massa, as the Enstone team seeks a replacement for Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen.
Team boss Eric Boullier, however, admits that Lotus needs to get its financial house in order before being able to commit to either of its prospects, having hit the headlines for losing Raikkonen over the matter of an unpaid salary.
The Frenchman admitted that the much-hyped deal with the Infinity Racing consortium still has not been signed off and, until it is, there can be little progress in terms of drivers for next season. Lotus is also seeking closer ties with engine partner Renault – another deal still to be closed – in the hope that it can bring the black-and-gold entity closer to the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari.
"We want to now close this Infinity partner story because this should give us the ability to be at least secure and going into the next step," Boullier told Reuters in Japan, "There is this part, and also a big sponsorship part which is being discussed, and I think we are nearly there.
"We would like to discuss a branding opportunity with [Renault] and maybe something even closer. Everything is ready to be signed, everything is the same as Red Bull, but I am just waiting a little bit to ensure no stone is left unturned.
“Once we have done this we can afford to pick the driver we want. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, but I will not bring Nico here if we see we cannot afford him."
Boullier confirmed that Hulkenberg and Massa remain the frontrunners for the vacant seat, with Romain Grosjean expected to remain onboard to fill the other cockpit in 2014.
"Hulkenberg and Massa are the two drivers you have to consider because of their experience and profile," he noted, before acknowledging that the German's recent form may have made him attractive to rival teams, "We cannot only rely on Nico, but Nico is obviously one of the targets, yes."
Despite finance being a key for 2014, however, Boullier insisted that Lotus would not be tempted to hire a 'pay driver' of lesser talent but with a bigger wallet.
"This is not the way to go,” he claimed, “We are here to compete at the highest level and the ambition of the team and owners is to compete at the highest level. I'm just waiting for facts now [before we can] to go to the next step and make the big announcement."
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