The Lotus F1 team is known to have suffered financial problems in the recent past, although the team claimed to be on a much better financial footing going into this 2015 season. Their actions tell a different story however as the team have caused widespread confusion amongst the motorsport community by signing Carmen Jorda and Adderly Fong as development drivers recently.
The F1 community reacted with ridicule to the announcement from the Lotus F1 team several weeks ago that they had signed the Spanish racer Carmen Jorda. On the surface this move seems to make sense, with Jorda racing for the last several years in GP3 and looking to progress up the single seater ladder. Dig deeper however and this move seems extremely bizarre if we believe the team that Jorda was hired based on her previous results.Jorda’s best results in her career so far was a 6th place finish in the 2009 European F3 Open series. Whilst this is a noteworthy result, considering it was her third year of F3 and the relative lack of serious high level junior competition in the European F3 Open series, this is slightly worrying. This result merited her moving up to higher categories however, as she stepped up to the Firestone Indy Lights series in America and then GP3 in Europe.
Jorda really struggled in Indy Lights and GP3, with her best finishing position in GP3 coming in her first year in 2012, where she finished 28th in the final standings. What’s slightly embarrassing for her is that late in her third year in GP3 last year, a car she spent all year at the back of the pack racing was taken by young Brit Dean Stoneman took to two wins and another podium in the final four races. This shows that it was most definitely not the car that caused her struggles in GP3, and shows the likely difference between a genunine young hotshot hoping for F1 in Dean Stoneman and another average GP3 driver such as Carmen Jorda’s results suggest she was.
Despite these three disappointing years in GP3, in late February this year the Lotus F1 team announced they had signed Jorda as a development driver for the team this year. In the team’s statement they stated Jorda would work closely in the simulator for the team, with both sides stating this move is a big step in Jorda’s dream to drive a Formula One car. Whilst it’s unlikely the team will give her any Free Practice drives this year, she may well drive for the team some tests and appears to become an integral part of the team this year.
The move led to widespread scepticism and criticism of both the Lotus team and Jorda herself as many saw through the press release and came to the conclusion she was hired to provide extra press attention for the Lotus team and the sponsorship money she can bring to the team. Her former team mate in GP3 Rob Cregan responded vocally on Twitter to the news, stating “Carmen jorda couldn’t develop a roll of film let alone a hybrid f1 car, f1 is about talent not money and nagging up fake positions.” Jorda herself responded to the news by declaring that “Formula one is full of jealousy,There are few cockpits, so only a few can make it. Rob is obviously jealous that I’m here and he is not.I wish him all the best, that’s all I can say.”
Just as this news died down the motorsport community reacted with another dose of scpeticism as Lotus announced Chinese-Canadian driver Adderly Fong as their latest development driver. Fong has risen slowly through the ranks of the junior racing categories, although like Jorda struggled once he reached GP3. His best year was his first in 2013, where he finished 21st in the final standings with two points. He didn’t score again in his second year of the series, and has signed with Koiranen for his third year in the category this year.
Fong has branched into sportscars over the past few years, before making his F1 debut late last year with a Free Practice run for the financially struggling Sauber team at the Abu Dhabi GP late last year. It appears Fong will have a similar role in the team to Jorda, with Fong also likely to bring funding to the team to support them throughout the year. The move also gives the team fresh press exposure in a rapidly expanding Chinese market, something the team will be looking to exploit. This move again seems strange when considering if the team hired Fong based on his results. It seems more plausible when considering that the team likely hired Fong to help his development, with Fong giving the team access to a huge new F1 market and some likely sponsorship money also.
For Lotus they have left themselves open to ridicule amongst the F1 community by claiming the hiring of Carmen Jorda and Adderly Fong is based on their previous results in junior categories, when it seems much more likely the team hired these two young drivers because of the press exposure it gives them alongside the potential sponsorship money they can bring to the team. With reserve driver and GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer signed it seems unlikely both will see significant track time this year, making their signing a potential future problem for the team as both are looking for Lotus to help with their development of driver as both attempt to reach F1.
The biggest plus for both drivers are the sponsorship money and press exposure they can bring to teams in F1, despite results in junior categories that suggest they should be nowhere near F1 based purely on apparent driving ability and previous results. This is systematic of a much wider problem of pay drivers and many F1 teams which are struggling financially. This situation means F1 could be diluted in terms of ultimate driving ability by paying drivers who have bought their place in F1 not purely earned it based it on results. This would be a huge shame for Formula One in my opinion, which is often lauded as the premier motorsport category in the world. Any thoughts on this article? Please feel free to comment any will be appreciated.