Lotus next F1 team to collapse?

With the big post-season game of musical chairs finally over, the FIA recently released the final entry list for the 2015 Formula One World Championship. And while most of it is exactly as we've reported along the way (with Sebastian Vettel switching to Ferrari and Fernando Alonso moving to McLaren), the list does have a couple of small surprises. Reigning champ Lewis Hamilton, for example, has opted to race under his own Number 44 instead of the Number 1 to which he is entitled, but it's the asterisks that are raising some eyebrows.

Both the Caterham and Marussia teams (the latter listed as Manor Grand Prix Racing Ltd, the name of the racing outfit that technically owns the entry slot) are listed as "subject to confirmation," and while Caterham (unlike the liquidating Marussia team) is still fighting to recover in time for next season, its tentative listing comes as no big surprise. What is a surprise, however, is the inclusion of the Lotus F1 Team with the same caveat, prompting speculation that the Enstone-based outfit might not make the grid next year.

Those schooled in F1 history will know that the Lotus team of today shares little in common with the British sports car manufacturer and engineering consultancy of the same name, or with the historic F1 team that previously raced under that banner. It started out as Toleman (the team with which Ayrton Senna got his start) before being bought out by Benetton (where Michael Schumacher won his first two World Champion titles). It was then taken over by Renault (where Alonso won his two titles) before Genii Capital took over and fostered a relationship with Lotus that allowed it to use the name. In a final breaking of ties with Renault, the team is switching to Mercedes power for next season.

The Enstone team has struggled recently, however. From the title-winning operation it once was, Lotus dropped down to eighth place in the 2014 Championship, failing to land on the podium (let alone win a race) even once this season, suffering a dozen DNFs out of nineteen grands prix. Without factory backing, the team has struggled financially as well, and without an injection of funds, it could drop off the entry list altogether.

If the worst-case scenario comes to pass and neither Marussia, Caterham nor Lotus return next season, the field will have shrunk down from 11 teams to 8 (or from 22 cars to just 16) – which would be the smallest starting grid since the tire debacle at the 2005 United States Grand Prix, and the smallest number of competitors for the World Championship in the history of the series. The grid for 2016, however, is slated to grow by at least one new team, if not two).

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