Eric Boullier on life beyond Kimi
| Source: formula1.com |
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: 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: 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.