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.