When Kimi Raikkonen was announced as the lead driver for Group Lotus’ 2012 F1 push on Tuesday, Team Principal Eric Boullier was conspicuously absent.
Quotes from team chairman Gerard Lopez, along with a neatly directed Q&A session from Raikkonen himself filed the pages of magazines and blogs everywhere, but Boullier remained quiet.
Considering Boullier’s position within the team, his non-appearance is highly unusual, especially when one takes into account the breadth of Raikkonen’s profile. However, potential cracks may go somewhat deeper than that.
The Frenchman made some belated comments during the week and again on Friday, first stating that the injured Robert Kubica has still not been ruled out for a drive in 2012 – presumably to lay some pressure on Vitaly Petrov – while later speaking of Raikkonen’s renewed motivation.
With the experienced Finn leading the squad and Petrov almost certain to sit alongside (unless his current option flounders), the deal looks to have drawn a line under Romain Grosjean’s F1 hopes for now.
The Swiss / French runner has been a mainstay of Boullier’s Gravity Sport Management for some time, despite a failed attempt at Formula 1 back in 2009. It is unfortunate for Grosjean who has shown encouraging maturity on screen this year, although questions about his ultimate speed persist.
This week Grosjean has been making noises about a move to DTM with the BMW squad and is due to test with Marco Wittmann and Martin Tomczyk next week at the Monteblanco Circuit in southern Spain.
Boullier isn’t the only man at the forefront of Gravity Management. Lopez, too, backs the company, while Czech racing driver and gentleman racer Antonín Charouz – the founder of Charouz Racing Systems (CHRS) – has deep ties with Gravity.
Gravity is paired with CHRS right up the World Series by Renault Championship in a campaign that saw the team field Antonín’s son, Jan and former Red Bull junior pilot, Brendon Hartley.
Whether that helped Antonín’s son, Jan, into the reserve driver role at Renault, I can only guess, so it was something of a surprise when Jan turned up at HRT for the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago.
Gravity Sport have been in the unusual position of battling their brethren on track in GP2 and this is where it gets slightly complicated on the surface.
On his way to taking the GP2 crown, Grosjean raced for Gravity Sport’s junior squad DAMS, while Group Lotus ran Lotus-ART Grand Prix.
Interestingly (and probably irrelevant), ART Grand Prix applied for the 13th spot on the Formula 1 grid in May 2010, only for that application to be withdrawn on July 7th.
It was rumoured that Michelin’s inability to secure the tyre supply contract for series torpedoed ART’s attempt to join the field, leaving the French squad short of funds. Not long after ART’s withdrawl from the Formula 1 process, Group Lotus signed on to back their GP2 and GP3 projects.
Of course, none of this may be relevant, but the signs point to a shift in Group Lotus F1’s management structure and potentially realignment the squad’s feeder system.
One wonders if a split could have greater ramifications beyond Boullier, possibly affecting Gravity Sport, DAMS and Charouz Racing Systems?
In the meantime, here’s a completely nonsensical long shot to consider – should a seat become available at Group Lotus F1 in 2013, it will be filled by young Italian Jules Bianchi.
Call back in fourteen months to see how I did – OK?