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Life beyond Kimi - exclusive Q&A with Lotus's Eric Boullier 24 Sep 2013

Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Hungaroring, Hungary. Saturday, 27 July 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21 finished third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 22 September 2013 Third place Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 with his trophy on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 22 September 2013 Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 20 September 2013 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 with Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Race Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 22 September 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Saturday, 21 September 2013

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Lotus team principal Eric Boullier. Following eight podiums in the first half of the season, the E21 went off the boil at the low-downforce Spa and Monza rounds and soon after came news of Kimi Raikkonen’s 2014 Ferrari move. Raikkonen subsequently revealed that missing pay cheques had sealed his decision, prompting questions about Lotus’s financial health and some suggested an early exit from the ‘Iceman’ was imminent, especially when the Finn started complaining of back pain ahead of Singapore qualifying. But then, in true Kimi fashion, he drove like a demon to storm from 13th on the grid to third at the flag. So what does Boullier make of it all? We found out…

Q: Eric, Lotus gave Kimi the chance - and the car - to make what has been an impressive F1 comeback. A better chance comes along and he’s gone, yet you say ‘no hard feelings’. But what feelings are there? That surely cannot leave you untouched…
Eric Boullier:
Disappointment. But we are not bitter. You have to deal with facts - and cannot live on expectations. We would have loved to keep Kimi and to carry on the nice story that we have built over the last two years, but you have to deal with reality. That’s it.

Q: Lotus never wanted to be drawn into a bidding war over his services. Was there a bidding war?
EB:
No, there was no bidding war. Kimi wanted to have some reassurance. But let’s expand the story. The strategy behind the team was to build the team up and bring it back as a top team. Genii gives us the means to achieve that, but obviously to go to the next level you need more means and more resources and it is no secret that for quite a while Genii have been looking for partners to make sure that we can bring more money to the team and have access to a bigger sponsor portfolio. We need to secure sponsors, as this is the only way to step up. Formula One depends massively on the people - and to attract the best people to a team you need to have money, to be able to build something for the long term. Genii’s plan was to bring the team up within five years - which we are trying to do - but to move to the next step you need another five-year plan in place. And that is what we are working on.

Q: How much does it hurt right now that one cornerstone of your building up the team - Kimi Raikkonen - is walking out?
EB:
It is hurting in terms of our image, because the combination of Kimi and Lotus F1 - on-track and off-track - as a brand was a perfect fit, right down to the black livery. Kimi is a personality, he’s a character, and he’s got charisma and he’s a fast driver who delivers on a Sunday. But then again we are not on a one-year plan - we have to look at the next five years and then Kimi’s departure probably becomes less crucial.

Q: What’s your take on his reasons for leaving? He always said that he loves the environment at Lotus. Ferrari is obviously tempting, but it also comes with a price tag that reads Alonso…
EB:
Well, it is public knowledge by now that we’ve been late in paying him, and he got upset. To manage the cash flow - and I don’t mean the money itself or the budget we have, which is guaranteed by Genii (or at least most of it as we don’t have the revenue stream to allow us to live independently from Genii) - this cash-flow is an issue if you have fixed costs and want to keep up the development level. You have to decide where you want to spend your money. Our suppliers and key people who develop the car were our priority - maybe not Kimi. But Kimi was in a similar position last year and it was all settled by the end of the year. And Genii had the plan to do the same this year.

Q: You know Kimi pretty well. What was so tempting about going for red? They didn’t part on particularly great terms last time…
EB:
You’d have to ask him. My guess is that he wanted some security, yes, but that there is also an element of revenge. He was shown the door and now they call him. But that’s just my assumption.

Q: Now you need a replacement - and moreover, you need a name. Talent you already have in Romain Grosjean…
EB:
Yes, we need a name - and if we cannot get a name for next year we have to work on our longer term plan and make our own name.

Q: There are two names being widely talked about in connection with the drive: Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg. What are the pros and cons of each from your perspective?
EB:
Both are very fast. Felipe is more at the end of his career than at the beginning. Massa was nearly world champion - he was champion for half a lap! He has a lot of experience, which is very valuable. Hulkenberg is highly rated in the paddock. So the question is do we want to be conservative and work with an experienced driver - especially with the new engine and power train next year - or do we gamble on a youngster?

Q: Are you a gambler?
EB:
We are. But in both cases it would be a gamble! (laughs)

Q: How much would you value having a driver who has already won races?
EB:
It is true that you have a different level of confidence behind you when you are a race winner. It is in the list of the pros for Felipe.

Q: Would you say that the two rather poor races for Kimi in Belgium and Italy played a part in his decision?
EB:
I don’t think that this had any influence on his decision. We know that our car is good on high-downforce tracks and that we don’t have the best package on low-downforce tracks, so Kimi knew that at some races we would suffer.

Q: When were you told of his departure?
EB:
Very shortly before the Ferrari announcement. We didn’t sit down for a coffee and speak it over…

Q: When will you go public with the name of your second driver?
EB:
We are in no hurry. We are now assessing all the possibilities and hold each option against our strategy. We can afford to buy some time, as we have the most-wanted free seat.

Q: Would it make a difference if a driver had sponsors in tow?
EB:
It would have zero effect on our decision. I want to choose the driver on merit and not on money.

Q: With chief aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer going to Maranello, Lotus have lost a third man to Ferrari after James Allison and Kimi. Coming the other way is aerodynamicist Nicolas Hennel. Is that adequate compensation?
EB:
The difference between Ferrari and us is that we never release names of who joins us. We don’t have only one guy joining us.

Q: There is considerable speculation right now about Lotus’s financial situation - rumours that the team is in deep water with significant debts. What is the reality?
EB:
Look at some of the other teams: at Red Bull or Mercedes, those companies are sponsoring the teams. Genii has a different strategy: they loan the money. It is part of the strategy that partners join the team and Genii will get back their investment. Seventy-five percent of the debt Lotus has comes from Genii. They could write it off tomorrow by saying this money is a sponsorship - and then our debt would be drastically reduced. Our normal debt is similar to most of the other teams. Take Mercedes for example: they could say that the money they invest in Brackley is only a loan - then the debt of the team would be seriously higher than ours.

Q: How worried are the teams generally about the costs of the 2014 changes, and about finding a smart interpretation of the new rules and being successful?
EB:
Yes, it will cost more than our revenue stream, so we increase the imbalance. But if you have the proper support - and Genii has the means to cover this - then you can look ahead. Of course the plan is to bring somebody in to make us move to the next step and to increase our revenue stream.

Q: So you are talking with possible title sponsors?
EB:
Yes, we are. That’s all I can say at the moment.

Q: How much has Kimi’s departure affected these negotiations?
EB:
You cannot plan a strategy like ours based on one person staying with the team or not, so it has no effect at all.

Q: Your performance wasn’t great in the couple of races prior to Singapore. Can you recapture your early-season form?
EB:
True, Spa and Monza, Silverstone and Canada were not good races for us, but that is because of the layout of the tracks. As I said before, low downforce is not our thing. But from now on we should be in good shape again as the tracks until the final race in Brazil should suit us.

Q: This season you will almost certainly finish fourth in the constructors’ championship. What about next year?
EB:
You may have a reshuffle of the grid order. The way you manage the energy of your power train may affect the race itself a lot. You may have some engine power trains that allow you to be at the front in qualifying, but then in the race that will all change. Your energy quantity will be limited, your fuel quantity will be limited and the way you manage these factor in the race will affect your competitiveness.

Q: Will the teams that build both chassis and engine have an advantage?
EB:
On paper, yes. I do believe in the concept of Renault having two teams they count on - Red Bull and us.

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