Four Drivers, Two Seats at Lotus

1 Malaysia F1 Team Principal, OK let’s just call it Lotus from here on in, Tony Fernandes has revelead that four drivers remain in the running for two seats at the team in 2010. The news comes in spite of Fernandes’ own admission that Lotus had signed its first driver a few weeks ago.

“Arrived in london. New york to london on virgin. One day. AirAsia fron kl to london to new york. Have to decide on 4 drivers for 2 seats,” he reported on his twitter feed late last night.

The news that two seats remain thus raises an interesting question…

1.) Did Fernandes’ initial quote refer to the signing of a test driver?

2.) Did Fernandes’ initial quote refer to a race driver, and the two remaining seats include the position of test driver?

3.) Has the initial deal Fernandes reported collapsed, thus opening two vacant race seats?

My hunch is that Fernandes’ initial report that the team had signed a driver was a signal that the squad had bitten the bullet and done a deal with Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy to act in the predominantly artificial role of test / reserve driver for 2010. Given that current testing regulations will give Fauzy all of about six miles in an F1 car, it would be an easy appointment for the team to make and would please the team’s major backer, the Malaysian government.

The two remaining seats, therefore, would be the race seats.

Jarno Trulli is known to have been high on the team’s list since Day 1. The Italian recently tested NASCAR and enjoyed himself, but I don’t believe he is ready or willing to walk away from F1 if a chance to race still exists. While he is still quick and would be a worthy addition to any young squad, I’m not sure how much personal backing he has. The team however would probably be willing to bring Trulli in if for nothing other than his vast experience.

Takuma Sato is also in discussions with Lotus, and to my mind is by far the team’s most sensible option. He proved at Super Aguri what he could do with a young team, and the maturity which he showed in leading the team has marked him out as a man that Lotus cannot afford to simply ignore. With most new teams looking for around US $8 million, Sato’s personal backing may fall short of the required amount, but what he brings in marketing value in Asia and in his experience with a start-up team is, to my mind, far more valuable.

So who are the other two drivers? An educated guess says that Kamui Kobayashi is still in there. We know he’s been talking to Lotus and we know he has backing from a few old Toyota backers. He impressed in his two outings for Toyota and a renewed partnership of him and Trulli would be a nice mix of youth and experience. But the question remains as to whether as a new team you can take a chance on youth or whether you should put your eggs in a more experienced basket?

Finally, then, you’d probably have to say that Kovalainen is in the mix of the final four. A line-up of him and Trulli would be one of total F1 underachievement but of two men who have much to prove. It could prove potent, but it could equally prove to be high risk as if both fail to shine, Lotus’ much vaunted return could be a tremendous flop.

What is interesting is that Lotus seems close to making its decision. Another large piece of the driver market puzzle could be about to fall into place.