There has been good news for GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer, who has been named as the Lotus F1 Team’s reserve driver for the 2015 Formula 1 season.
The 24-year-old Briton – son of former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer – replaces Charles Pic in the role, and will support the team over the course of the 2015 Formula 1 season with simulator work and a “significant number” of Friday practice session outings, the Enstone team has confirmed.
“Jolyon is a fantastic talent and a very credible driver to fulfil the role of Third Driver at Lotus F1 Team,” Lotus F1 Team Princial Gérard Lopez said.
“Romain [Grosjean] and Pastor [Maldonado] are both GP2 Series Champions, so we know what a fantastic proving ground GP2 provides. For Jolyon to have enjoyed such a successful season as he took his title last year shows his superb potential for the future. We are looking forward to seeing him in team colours and behind the wheel of our 2015 car, the E23 Hybrid, which represents an exciting new era for Lotus F1 Team.”
“My goal has been to become a race driver in a competitive F1 team for 2016 and Lotus F1 Team is a great opportunity for me, particularly with Mercedes engines now. To be able to learn with a major F1 team by working closely with them in every area and getting a lot of mileage in the car is the best way possible, as Valtteri Bottas proved. I am delighted to be joining Lotus F1 Team at such an exciting time and my objective is to earn a long term future with them,” Palmer added.
Palmer became the first British driver to win the GP2 Series championship crown since Lewis Hamilton achieved the feat in 2006. Driving for the DAMS team, he claimed four race wins and a further eight podium finishes to win the title by 47 points from McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne.
The deal could serve as a springboard for Palmer to join the Formula 1 grid in 2016, with both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado’s contracts with the team set to expire in 2015. Palmer’s ambitions will, however, be very much determined by the level of commercial backing he can raise to help fund a drive in the current era when talent alone is rarely a platform to a seat in F1.
Palmer becomes the first GP2 Series champion since 2012 title-winner Davide Valsecchi to earn an official Formula 1 reserve drive, but the series has of late proven to be a poor springboard to get its championship-winners into F1 – the last to do so was 2010’s title winner, Pastor Maldonado.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of rumours swirling around that the Lotus F1 Team will itself undergo a rebranding and renaming in the coming year. While it has tried to leverage the history of the iconic Lotus name, it shares no real history or funding from the Lotus Cars group following the split between the team and the British sports car maker.
The team’s name – and the tenuous links it has created to the championship-winning Colin Chapman-era team – have been useful in opening up a number of sponsorship opportunities for the team, but there’s a clear commonsense argument for the team to rebrand. Its switch to Mercedes power units should propel it much further up the grid after a troubled 2014 campaign, and if that does happen then it will attract good sponsorship regardless of what the team is called.
How much longer team principal Gérard Lopez and his right-hand man, Eric Lux, remain in charge is also another question. Lopez’s GENII Capital group bought into the team when Renault decided to sell up, but they in turn have had to borrow money from property magnate Andy Ruhan, which hasn’t been paid back.
Ruhan is the man ultimately pulling the strings as the team’s major creditor, and with his own right-hand man Matt Carter now involved in the operation of the team, its finances are looking a lot healthier as a result. Ruhan doesn’t seek to attract the media spotlight, but it seems unlikely that the more media-hungry Lopez will remain in charge for much longer.
Having bled a significant number of engineering and design staff to rival outfits when its financial position was looking extremely tenuous in 2013, the team has picked up a number of former Marussia and Caterham team members following both outfits’ administration woes. Many of these folks were themselves ex-Lotus F1 team members, who left when things started to go downhill.
Image via Lotus F1 Team