SUZUKA (Japan) • The troubled Lotus Formula One team were locked out of their paddock hospitality at the Japanese Grand Prix yesterday while freight, including engines, was also held up by payment problems.
French driver Romain Grosjean, who would normally hold a press briefing in the facility where team members and guests are catered for, conducted it instead out in the paddock area with reporters sheltering under umbrellas in the rain.
Equipment was piled up outside the empty hospitality under a tarpaulin. A team spokesman said there had been a "slight delay" complicated by the time difference with Europe and well-documented cash-flow problems.
"The guys are going to do their best as always," said Grosjean, speaking in the afternoon as the Lotus freight finally arrived and was delivered to mechanics who faced a long night building the cars for today's practice.
"As long as they catch up by tomorrow at 2pm, I'm happy," added the Frenchman, who is due to sit out first practice to make way for British reserve Jolyon Palmer.
Grosjean, who finished third in last month's Belgian Grand Prix, saw no reason why the team could not again rise above their troubles.
"It does not mean we can't fight for podiums this weekend. Look at Spa, we had bailiffs in the garage and we ended up on the podium," he said. "It is a situation which is very tricky. We are waiting for answers and confirmation for the future of the team, but the spirit is still there."
Lotus are hoping to be taken over by Renault, their former owners, but the talks have dragged on and the team has had to fend off court cases and attempts to put them into administration.
They are due back in the London High Court on Monday for an adjourned hearing in a case brought against them by Britain's tax authorities, just one of a list of creditors seeking payment.
In Belgium, bailiffs had turned up before and after the race to impound the cars as part of legal action brought against the team by French former reserve driver Charles Pic. That action was later settled, as was a winding up petition brought by a supplier, while a problem paying Pirelli for tyres in Hungary was blamed on a delayed bank transaction.
"We are here, things are turning up late but the most important is that our group of people is still here ready to race," said Grosjean.
He is tipped to leave Lotus to join the new US-owned Haas team at the end of the season, when Britain's Jenson Button is widely expected to quit F1.
The McLaren driver yesterday indicated that his sense of joy had disappeared after 16 years in the sport.
Refusing to be drawn on the speculation that he had failed to secure a contract extension with underperforming McLaren, he told reporters at Suzuka: "I don't like finishing 14th, I don't like finishing 10th. That's not what excites me."
The 35-year-old, who captured the world title in 2009, has endured a hugely frustrating season because of his car's unreliable Honda engine, and was forced to retire in Singapore last weekend.
"I don't think any driver has joy when they're not fighting for victories," added Button, who won at Suzuka in 2011 and is married to Japanese lingerie model Jessica Michibata. "That's what we're here for, that's what we love - the challenge of fighting at the front.
"There are so many possibilities of what could happen next year, so may possibilities. But I can't give you anything else really since the last race."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
Practice 1 & 2: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHubCh208, 8.55am & 12.55pm