Toleman, Benetton, Renault. All historic names. There are iconic moments associated with all three. Senna’s other worldly drive at Monaco in ’84 with Toleman. Schumacher and Brawn forging together an alliance that would dominate Formula One, starting with ’94 & ’95 titles at Benetton. Alonso bringing the duo’s Ferrari title run to an end, with Renault in ’05 & ’06. These moments, each a decade apart, all under different names, are the moments of a factory that still operates in Formula 1 today. Albeit barely.
Spa saw Lotus take a stunning 3rd place, achieved by Romain Grosjean. The team made headlines for another reason. Bailiffs preventing the team from leaving the circuit because of a legal dispute with former reserve driver Charles Pic. Events which saw Bernie Ecclestone have to admit live on air that, despite them lining up on the grid at Spa, Lotus were impounded.
Staggering stuff. Almost as staggering as the amount of debt that the team was under. Financial accounts statements for the year-ending 31 Dec ’14 showed Lotus with a net debt of €204 Million. Lotus had admitted before that continuing to invest in the technology that kept them at the front of the grid was too much of a burden. (I’ll come back to that later) Three times the amount of any other team. Yet when it came to payments from Formula 1 Red Bull received three times as much as Lotus. €156 as opposed to €51.
Things are so bad at Lotus that Bernie Ecclestone has stepped in and paid the wages of the team for the month of August, telling The Times:
“I thought I should cover the wages of the people there to make sure they were all right and so that Lotus would at least get to Spa and, hopefully, to Italy,” the F1 chief executive said. “But they really need to make progress with Renault now to make sure everything is OK,”
This follows on from Bernie’s statement that if Renault were to complete the buy-out of Lotus they would receive “Historical Payments”.
“Yes. If they take over Lotus and do exactly what Mercedes and Red Bull did, that would be it, so yeah, sure. They have talked about perhaps taking over Lotus, so there is a way in for them, and we’d love to have them on board.”
Part of the reason for the position Lotus finds itself in is its push to be competitive when Kimi Raikkonen was winning races for the team.
“If you have ambition and a slightly competitive character – and for me it is not ‘slightly’, it is a lot – it is hard not to go for it, but you can become your own worst enemy. What I would not do again, perhaps, is that when you are fourth or fifth, try to gamble in going for first place, as we did two years ago,” said team boss Gerard Lopez.
Yet that push has seen the factory at Enstone become one of the most modern in Formula 1, a key factor on Renault’s final decision. Reports from France prior to the Monza GP suggest that a deal is done that will see Renault buy a share of Team Enstone (Lotus) and that Alain Prost (Currently with the company’s Formula E team) will take on a senior role.
In doing so they would rekindle a partnership that brought much colour to the grid for a decade and ensure that the survival of, in all but name, one of the most historic teams on the grid.
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