Martin Whitmarsh's chances of swapping leadership of McLaren for a similar role at F1 rival Lotus may have taken a dive, following reports that former PSA rally chief Olivier Quesnel is now being lined up by the Enstone team.
Lotus, which missed the opening pre-season test at Jerez in a bid to work longer on its new E22, had been in talks with Whitmarsh
about replacing Eric Boullier, who quit to take the new position of racing director at McLaren. However, an agreement has yet to be forthcoming, and the French media is now claiming that Quesnel is now moving to the front of the queue to head up Gerard Lopez's team.
According to RMC
, talks with Whitmarsh were apparently tied into sponsorship negotiations with Sony, but the chances of either appearing in black-and-gold this season now appear to have faded, leaving the door open for Quesnel, who is friendly with FIA president Jean Todt and, by association, his son Nicolas, who manages several drivers in the top flight.
Quesnel and Todt combined to form Peugeot Talbot Sport in 1980, before the former branched out into the media. He was drawn back to rallying in 2008, however, having been hired as the new head of Citroën Racing, replacing Guy Fréquelin. Although the marque had already tasted success in the World Rally Championship, Quesnel immediately helped guide it to its first titles since 2005, and was promptly installed as the head of Peugeot Sport – in charge of the company's pursuit of Le Mans 24 Hours glory - by PSA. Again, he proved successful, taking the 2009 race in a 1-2 finish ahead of the all-conquering Audi squad.
Talks between Lotus and its prospective new team boss are understood to have already taken place, while the report also claimed that he would not slip directly into Boullier's role, but instead focus on 'sporting' matters.
"Lopez and Quesnel have already met to discuss the topic [and] a contract proposal was made," the media outlet claimed at the weekend.
Lotus has previously said that it [hopes to have a new team leader in place
by the first Bahrain test, which kicks off on 19 February. The team completed a shakedown of the E22 in Jerez at the weekend, carrying out almost 100km on the second filming day after struggling for track time on Friday.