Eric Boullier leaves Lotus; Gerard Lopez in as team principal


In a stunning development, Lotus has announced the immediate departure of team principal Eric Boullier. Replacing Boullier at that post will be team owner Gerard Lopez.

In the accompanying statement on the subject, the team added it would officially unveil its 2014 challenger, the E22, at the beginning of the first Bahrain preseason test in February and “confirm its organizational structure for 2014 ahead of this test.”

“Lotus F1 Team has never stood still and we head into what promises to be an exciting 2014 season with an innovative new car, new partners and a new management structure at Enstone,” an optimistic Lopez said in his own thoughts.

“Great things have been achieved over the past years and we need to continue this momentum…We thank Eric for all his hard work over the past four years and we are confident we can continue to fight as one of the top teams in Formula 1 over the seasons ahead.”

Boullier had been team principal for the team since the 2010 season, when it was still known as Renault. Last year, he helped the team claim a solid fourth place in the constructor’s championship.

But off-track, there was much talk about the team’s financial status – talk that was fueled by Kimi Raikkonen’s mid-season revelation that he had not been paid by Lotus; more recently, Lopez said that Raikkonen (now back at Ferrari) has received part of his 2013 salary and would get the rest in due time.

Lotus’ decision to not attend next week’s first preseason test of 2014 at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain also did nothing to stop a growing sense of unease about the team. Boullier’s sudden exit will likely only make that unease deepen further.

As for where Boullier may end up, multiple reports including those from British F1 broadcaster Sky Sports (who says that Boullier left Lotus on his own accord) and the UK’s Telegraph newspaper have linked the Frenchman to McLaren, which launched its new MP4-29 earlier this morning.

With Ron Dennis promising changes after he returned to the CEO post in Woking, the future of current McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been debated.

It bears noting that Whitmarsh was not quoted in team statements regarding today’s MP4-29 launch or yesterday’s promotion of Stoffel Vandoorne to reserve driver.

Now it appears that F1 observers will be waiting to see if Dennis indeed replaces Whitmarsh as principal and then puts the now-former Lotus man Boullier into the role.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”