By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Lotus owner Gerard Lopez says he has a Plan B if Renault fail to take over the cash-strapped Formula One team but is not expecting to use it.
An announcement from the French carmaker is imminent, with the main options being to buy back their former title-winning team or announce they are walking away from the sport.
Lopez said everything was ready to sign from his side and he was “pretty calm” and “comfortable” with a situation that has been dragging on for months amid endless speculation about the outcome.
“There is no Plan B that we are discussing right now,” the Luxembourg-based businessman told Reuters at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“There is a Plan B that was set up quite a while ago when things were still maybe a bit (uncertain). We could take it out of the drawer and put it in place but it is not on anybody’s desk now.
“I don’t think we have discussed a Plan B for a month or month and a half.”
Lotus have raced this year with Mercedes engines, after switching from Renault at the end of 2014.
While Renault would run Lotus as a works team, Lopez said the contract with Mercedes remained in force even though the manufacturer had since agreed a deal with Manor Marussia.
“We still have an engine, the contract with Mercedes has not been stopped,” he said.
“The team could still exist (without a Renault deal).”
Lopez’s upbeat words were a marked contrast to those of Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who sounded far less certain about the team’s prospects, and some others in the paddock.
“They are running a business unsuccessfully, they haven’t got enough money to keep going,” Ecclestone told the motorsport.com website at the weekend.
“So they’ll stop. They’re in trouble with finance anyway, so I can’t see that a Mercedes contract is going to help.”
Lotus have been besieged with legal troubles, facing repeated demands from unpaid suppliers and creditors as well as the British tax authorities in a case that remains pending.
They are due back in the London High Court on Dec.7 for a hearing postponed to allow time for the Renault deal to go through after representatives for the French company presented a letter of intent.
Lopez, who plans to remain a team shareholder if the takeover goes through, said that case would be settled whatever Renault’s decision turned out to be.
The owner said the publicised predicaments — with staff locked out of hospitality in Japan and garages in Brazil and Abu Dhabi until circuit bills were paid — could be explained.
He said Lotus had wanted to ensure they had the resources to compete next season even if Renault walked away, but they also needed to retain staff to ensure it remained an interesting proposition.
That meant prioritising where the money went, and not borrowing against the future.
“We are trying to be careful…people criticise us but in reality what we are doing is protecting the team really and the jobs going forward,” said Lopez.
“If for some reason this (takeover) did not happen, which I don’t believe, then we did everything right to run a smaller team and at a non-pressure point.”
Lopez said reports that the team, who employ some 480 people in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s central English constituency, had already received an advance payment on their 2016 revenues were wrong.
“The monthly payment was advanced by three days. We have not touched our FOM (Formula One Management) money from next year… We have not touched a single cent of money for next year.
“As far as the budget goes, we would have the budget to race (in 2016),” he added.
“The reason we are keeping the team as it is, it’s because this is the team that interests the constructor…if we were to be an independent team we would not conduct business as now. We would definitely cut down quite a bit.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)