With F1 on its summer break, we're taking a look at the 2015 driver market. Next up it's the struggling Lotus squad.
It's all gone rather wrong for Lotus this season. After regularly challenging for podiums and picking up the odd race win in recent years, they now find themselves fighting to escape Q1 and scrapping for the odd point. The team are currently a distant eighth in the Constructors' Championship; Romain Grosjean sits 14th in the Drivers' standings, while Pastor Maldonado has yet to score a point and is languishing in 19th.
Clearly this season is already a write-off, with focus shifting towards ensuring 2015 is not similarly disastrous. Changes are already afoot on the technical side, with Renault power ditched in favour of the all-conquering Mercedes unit. It represents the end of a 20-year relationship between the Enstone-based squad and the French manufacturer and could have wider ramifications - even on the driver front.
But one piece of that puzzle is already in place, with Maldonado BEING confirmed for 2015 in July. And of course, so was the extensive sponsorship package the Venezuelan brings with him; no one is pretending it's a coincidence, of course.
Because Maldonado has not impressed this season. He has been involved in a number of silly incidents, and though fast he still appears immature for a 29-year-old in his fourth F1 campaign. Crucially, he's been well-beaten by Grosjean. In fact, no driver has been out-qualified more by their team-mate this season.
Once seen as erratic and arrogant, the Frenchman is now the team's biggest asset. Grosjean has matured into a fast and reliable F1 driver, capable of demonstrating his talent whatever the machinery. Many now believe that, if given the right car, the Frenchman could be a genuine front-end contender.
But are Lotus the team to give him that equipment? The team certainly has the pedigree, and Mercedes engines will help, but having lost significant ground this year they have a huge task to catch up. Can they, for example, get back on terms with the likes of Williams and Force India?
With that question in mind Grosjean may decide he needs to make the break now - but where could he go? McLaren would seem to be his only sensible option. The Woking-based outfit are in transition, but they still appear a better long-term bet than Lotus. Romain's trump card is his prior relationship with Eric Boullier, who showed great faith in his abilities during the difficult times and rates him extremely highly.
But the competition for this seat is fierce, and while Boullier may argue Grosjean's corner there is no guarantee that Ron Dennis will see it the same way. Ron wants a megastar in one of his cars - a driver in the Hamilton-Alonso-Vettel talent bracket - and for all Grosjean's ability he is not at that level.
Elsewhere his choices are scarce. Perhaps a seat will open up at Force India or Williams, but both are unlikely, and even if it did Grosjean would not necessarily be the first choice. As such he may have no option but to stick with Lotus,
However, even that may not be a straightforward decision. Because Grosjean's seat is part-funded by Total, the French oil giants whose logos currently appear on the Lotus.
But Total's links are with Renault rather than the team, and it is entirely possible that the end of the engine partnerhsip will also spell the end of this funding. What's more, with fellow oil giants PDVSA's logos on the car, Total may already feel a little unloved. Their departure could make it tricky to keep Grosjean on board, though surely the team will work hard to do so.
However the link is unlikely to help Romain find a new seat, as Renault will only supply three teams next season: Red Bull, Toro Rosso, and Caterham. None are a viable option for the Frenchman.
If Romain does go the team would likely seek a funded driver, preferably one already in the sport, but a rookie if needs be. Those with experience who could be on the market include Max Chilton, who would no doubt enjoy a move up the field, and the current Sauber pairing of Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil. Gutierrez has significant backing from Mexico, and with their grand prix set to be revived next year he has the cash to stay in F1. Sutil also brings money, as well as over 100 grands prix worth of experience, and would no doubt like to rekindle his relationship with Mercedes.
Reserve driver Charles Pic is also a candidate thanks to his financial clot and a solid two-season spell in F1. However, the Frenchman's links are primarily with Renault and Total, making him even less likely than Grosjean to remain an Enstone employee.
Outside F1, Lotus have Danish racer Marco Sorensen on their books. He has blown hot and cold in recent years, sometimes delivering superb performances but then vanishing for several races in a row. However he does bring sponsorship so cannot be ruled out.
As an outside bet, the team could look towards Williams' young driver Felipe Nasr. There will be no space for him at Grove next season, but the Brazilian brings money and farming him out to Lotus would keep him in the Mercedes fold.
However it is difficult to see a space opening up, because Grosjean has little in the way of alternative options. The worst case scenario would see him dropped due to lack of funding and unable to land a seat elsewhere. After working so hard to rebuild his repuatation, it would be cruel to see Romain left out in the cold now.
VERDICT: Maldonado (confirmed) and probably Grosjean, though a number of well-funded drivers will also be making phonecalls during the summer break.