Septemebr 25th, 2013 (f1plus/J. Leslie).- Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier has said that he wants to choose Kimi Raikkonen's replacement for 2014 based on merit and not on the money that the driver will bring to the team.
He also commented on the two big names being linked to the driver, Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg, and said that taking either of them would be a gamble.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the official Formula 1 website, Boullier was asked if it would make a difference if a driver had sponsors in tow.
He responded: "It would have zero effect on our decision. I want to choose the driver on merit and not on money."
Kimi Raikkonen announced earlier this month that he would re-join the Ferrari team in 2014, partnering Fernando Alonso.
With all seats being filled at the top three teams, the vacant Lotus drive is now the only expected front-running seat available.
Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa look to be leading the chase and Boullier was asked what the pros and cons of the two drivers are: "Both are very fast. Felipe is more at the end of his career than at the beginning. Massa was nearly world champion - he was champion for half a lap! He has a lot of experience, which is very valuable."
He continued: "Hulkenberg is highly rated in the paddock. So the question is do we want to be conservative and work with an experienced driver - especially with the new engine and power train next year - or do we gamble on a youngster?"
So is Boullier a gambler? "We are. But in both cases it would be a gamble!"
The Frenchman also said that they are in no hurry to replace Raikkonen and have plenty of time to make the decision: "We are in no hurry. We are now assessing all the possibilities and hold each option against our strategy. We can afford to buy some time, as we have the most-wanted free seat."
He also commented on speculation that the team is in serious debt and financial trouble. Explaining the reality of the situation, he said: " 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."
He added: "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."
Boullier was also asked about the costs of the 2014 changes, including the new V6 Turbo powerplants. He revealed that the team is currently searching for a new title sponsor: "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."