The departure of Kimi Raikkonen, although not surprising, has left a big hole in the Lotus line-up for the 2014 Formula One World Championship season. The future of his current teammate Romain Grosjean is also up in the air, so what happens now for the team formally named Renault, especially after the defection of one of their major engineers to Ferrari in Technical Director James Allison?
Romain Grosjean’s season has been a vast improvement from 2012, and his reputation is beginning to be rebuilt. The Enstone based team has also stood by him publicly, and his performances have showed real development, proving the team were right to back him. If I were Lotus, I’d want some stability at the team, and Grosjean would supply that. On his day he can fight for the win like at the Nurburgring this year, and it won’t be long before Lotus and ‘RoGro’ win together in my opinion.
But that’s only one of the drivers linked to the two seats in the team. The others linked already have been current reserve driver Davide Valsecchi, Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, Sauber’s German driver Nico Hulkenberg, and Ferrari outcast Felipe Massa.
The firm favourite at this point seems to be Nico Hulkenberg. The young German continues to impress in his F1 career this year, and came out with a very impressive fifth placed finish in the recent Italian Grand Prix in a Sauber most people feel is a very disappointing car. Many believe Hulkenberg is overdue a top-line drive, and Lotus might be the car he needs to finally fight regularly at the front of the field. It could also help him get over the disappointment of missing out on the Ferrari drive to Raikkonen.
Brazilian Felipe Massa sees his seven year career at Ferrari come to an end at the climax of the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix, and him being linked to the team is mainly because of his replacement at Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen, being the current Lotus driver. However the chances for Massa going to Lotus is growing quickly, with Renault Boss Eric Boullier apparently saying he’s the best option to replace Kimi. I for one can see the likeable Massa remain in the sport for 2014, but for me it’ll more than likely be at Sauber, possibly as Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement! Though I have been known to be wrong!
Pastor Maldonado moving from Williams to Lotus is an outside bet at best, and would be dependant on the commercial package he brings being right for the team. The Venezuelan, winner of the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, would bring his PDVSA money, which could help the team who have had financial issues in the past six months or so.
The other name that could get the drive is current Lotus reserve driver and 2012 GP2 Series champion Davide Valsecchi, though this is unlikely as the Italian has spent the best part of a whole year on the side-lines not racing, and only had brief test sessions in the Lotus during the winter and in the young drivers test at Silverstone.
So what do Lotus do? Of course other names could come into the equation, but for me the logical choice would be to retain Romain Grosjean and hire Nico Hulkenberg as his teammate. For me that signals the intent they want to be a force in the sport. Both drivers could challenge for race wins and potentially championships. They might go for Massa alongside Grosjean, but ultimately it will be up to the team at Enstone to make the final decision for 2014.
Hey, it could even be Fernando Alonso!