Q: Matthew, what is the state of affairs in the Lotus-Renault saga? It all seems to have gone a bit quiet…
Matthew Carter: Renault issued a letter of intent, so behind the scenes the Renault and Lotus senior management are working flat out to make sure that we get the deal done. Things are progressing, but these things take time. I am confident that the deal is going to happen, but as I said, it needs time to get it across.
Q: You just said that you are ‘confident’ that the deal is going to happen - which implies it could in theory still not happen…
MC: Well, we know that in business anything can happen and as long as there are no signatures on the documents the deal is not concluded - but confidence is very high!
Q: Time must be running out for you: you now have a car designed for a Mercedes engine - and you will have to fit a Renault engine for 2016. What is your deadline?
MC: Well, we have two options for an engine next year: either we go with Mercedes or Renault. We are progressing along that route. We’ve got two designs for next year’s car and we are pushing forward with both options.
Q: How would the team be, should you go racing with a Mercedes engine? That would presumably mean no Renault deal…
MC: Exactly. But that is a rather unlikely option that we will go into the 2016 season with a Mercedes engine. And if we were to, yes, that would mean that the Renault deal felt flat. But my strong guess is that it will be a Renault engine next year.
Q: How big will the Renault buyout be in the end? Will Renault then have the majority stake?
MC: Yes, exactly. They will then hold the controlling interest. That is also stated in the letter of intent. They would run the team as a manufacturer’s team, like Ferrari and Mercedes are doing at the moment.
Q: Should Renault move into Enstone again, what would be the structure of the team? Who will run it and how much say would parent company Renault/Nissan have? Where do you see yourself?
MC: I don’t know how the structure would be. Until the deal is concluded I don’t think that any of these details have been finalised. If they buy the team, then for sure they are moving into Enstone because that is part of what they are buying: the facility and operation of Enstone, the manpower that we’ve got there, and the race team. That is what they are buying. With regards to the senior management, I honestly I don’t know.
Q: So the deal covers the hardware of the team and the human resources…
MC: Exactly. The team that we’ve got in Enstone is brilliant. They have worked this year on a very small budget - and we’ve still managed to get a podium. We are a great team.
Q: The lack of a clear outlook for Lotus obviously contributed to Romain Grosjean signing with Haas for 2016. How big a regret is that on your side?
MC: Romain is a great driver and he has been with us for a long time. He is very professional and he always delivers for the team and I don’t know the ins and outs of his deal with Haas, but as far as I can see he is looking for a new challenge. He goes with our blessing - and hopefully we can move on with Jolyon (Palmer) and Pastor (Maldonado) next year the way that we want to.
Q: But isn’t that a rather challenging pairing? Pastor Maldonado and rookie Jolyon Palmer?
MC: Ha, I don’t know. Jolyon is obviously the GP2 champion of 2014 and has worked with us all year this year and he has been brilliant. The GP2 champions have to find themselves a Formula One seat! And he has to get the chance to prove himself next season. On the other hand Pastor has been in the sport for a long time. We know how quick Pastor can be…
Q: … but we also know something else…
MC: … he has an unfortunate reputation sometimes that follows him around. But we know how fast he can be. We see that in the simulator and on his one-lap pace. Between the two of them I think they will be a strong pairing.
Q: Coming back to the current season, Lotus are bottom of the Mercedes-powered teams. So far this season Pastor has eight DNFs from 17 races and Romain six - that is quite a lot. Can you explain?
MC: It is hard, no doubt. I have to say that we’ve been unlucky - right from the first race of the season where both cars were out in the first corner! Yes, we are fourth of the Mercedes-powered teams, but we are reasonably close to Force India. It has been fairly nip and tuck with them all season.
Q: How much did the switch to Mercedes power - and consequently having to build a new car for this season - hurt you? And have you learned anything in terms of ‘how not to do it’ for 2016?
MC: Yes, we have learned something. And yes, it is a huge deal - especially for us. We are trying to build a lot of the car in-house. We build our own gearbox, our own rear-end suspension in-house. A team like Force India uses the Mercedes engine and the Mercedes gearbox and rear-end suspension. We build all that by ourselves, so going from a Renault engine to a Mercedes engine was a huge step - but we did it and we are reasonably successful this season. So doing the job backwards, in the opposite direction: yes, we’ve done it before and, yes, we can do it (again). It will be tight because of the timing, but I think everything will be fine for the first test.
Q: Speaking with Romain recently he said that he believes that 2016 and 2017 will be tough years for the team, but that in 2018 you should have overcome the worst and that he does not rule out a return…
MC: That sounds great. Seems like Romain has a crystal ball! (laughs) Yes, I agree that next year will be difficult with the settling down of the new structure of the team. 2017 will see massive rule changes, so that could also mean a huge chance. We are already designing the car for 2017. So I think in 2017 we should be reasonably successful, and then if Romain wants to come back - hopefully there is space for him.
Q: What about the name of the team? Lotus is very iconic. Will that name disappear again?
MC: If the deal with Renault goes through, then yes. Then the team will not be called Lotus - then the name will fall out of Formula One. Right now we have a license to use the name Lotus - and that license will be terminated. So someone else could go for that name!