One can always rely on Kimi Räikkönen to speak economically and honestly, and the the Finn was in good form during yesterday’s FIA Press Conference ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.
Having signed on as Felipe Massa’s replacement at Ferrari, the 2007 World Champion confirmed that his departure from Lotus was purely financial, revealing to a shocked – but not surprised – press pack that he hasn’t been paid as promised by the Enstone team.
“I like to race, that’s the only reason I’m here,” he said.
“The reasons I left the team are purely on the money side. I haven’t had my salary – it’s unfortunate.”
Räikkönen is not one to beat around the bush, and he would certainly know whether he’s been paid properly or not.
What is also underscores are the longstanding rumours of the team’s financial plight, with the team understood to be struggling to pay its suppliers on time.
While Felipe Massa and Nico Hülkenberg may be the frontrunners to take over Räikkönen’s seat, both would be understandably nervous about signing onto a team now known not to have paid its star driver the agreed amount.
A host of core engineering staff – including chief designer James Allison and aero head Dirk de Beer – have also switched over to Ferrari, and one would assume that other key team members would be on the lookout for better offers elsewhere, particularly if they aren’t being paid properly like the team’s star driver.
Despite the losses among its ranks, Lotus looks strong – for the moment at least – and is well led by team principal Eric Boullier, but that may not be enough to keep it among the leading teams.
Back in June, the team’s parent owner, Genii Capital, confirmed that it had sold a 35% stake in the team to the curiously-named Infinity Racing group (not to be confused with the Renault-owned Infiniti car brand, which sponsors Red Bull Racing). It would appear that not all – or any – of this cash may have materialised, and it’s rather urgently needed to help the team pay off its debts and keep its coffers healthy next year.
Added to this, there has long been talk that the team’s engine partner and former owner, Renault, could invest more in the team to improve its brand visibility, and that could help the team’s prospects.
But there could also exist the need for the team to take on a well-backed driver next year. Hülkenberg has some limited personal sponsorship from Dekra, and there are also rumours kicking around the Santander might be willing to bankroll a drive for Felipe Massa because of the Brazilian’s popularity in his homeland, one of the company’s core markets.
All in all, the situation is looking rather messy, and Lotus has not publically engaged with Räikkönen’s public outing of the team’s financial problems. There’s really not a lot that the team can say in its own defence, but the coming weeks will prove extremely interesting…