Although nobody close to the situation seems to be getting too excited about the FIA noting that Lotus F1's participation in the 2014 World Championship is "subject to confirmation," I'm one of those people who figures where there's smoke there's fire.
You'll recall that this is the outfit whose owner, investment group Genii Capital, unloaded 35 per cent of the team last spring to something called Infinity Racing (now Quantum Motorsports). Genii did this because of the potential for increased commercial opportunities (translation: sponsorship) that was supposed to kick in at the end of 2013 - but didn't.
Meantime, Lotus either wouldn't or couldn't afford to pay Kimi Raikkonen his salary in 2013. One of the first things Kimi did after signing with Ferrari was to confirm what up until then had been rumour: that he was leaving Lotus because they owed him money.
Lotus reacted by issuing a statement saying everything had been cleared up and all debts paid to Raikkonen. The result? Kimi opted for elective back surgery rather than to drive in the last two races of the season for them - not exactly an endorsement of their claim.
Meantime, of all the conflicts-of-interest that exist in Formula One, the Lotus F1 situation is among the worst. The team boss, Eric Boullier, also happens to be the personal manager of team driver Romain Grosjean. In one hand, he takes money from the board of directors to represent the team's best interests and then, after agreeing terms with his client, Grosjean, takes his manager's percentage off the top with the other. The higher the salary, the higher the commission. That guy must have taken lessons from Flavio Briatore.
When the Infinity/Quantum deal fell through, Lotus had to sign pay driver Pastor Maldonado in order to operate in 2014. Maldonado allegedly has millions of dollars of support from the Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA. One problem: Venezuela discovered last fall that it was getting its pockets picked by certain motorsport participants and has been conducting a forensic audit of all motorsport spending since.
Perhaps the Maldonado money hasn't started to flow yet, or perhaps the expected river is really a stream. Whatever, it is enlightening to see that the team has announced it will not participate in the first test of the F1 season in Spain at the end of the month. And within days of that announcement, its CEO, Patrick Lewis, stepped aside - or was forced to resign.
I suggest Formula One is in for a very challenging year. It could be a struggle to survive, in fact. It's obvious that Lotus F1 is on the bubble. Marussia's place in the championship is likewise "subject to confirmation." Most of the teams have pay drivers, which is a recipe for disaster.
McLaren doesn't have a title sponsor (is the manoeuvring between Ron Dennis and double-lung transplant recipient Mansour Ojjeh the reason Fernando Alonso decided against returning?) and Ferrari is scoffing at the very idea of any kind of cost containment.
And Bernie Ecclestone could either be fired by F1 owners CVC Capital Partners or wind up in jail because of various court proceedings he's been facing.
As I said, a very challenging year. FIA president Jean Todt would be wise to have a Plan B in place to rescue and relaunch Formula One if the house of cards it has become starts to collapse.
The numbers the current drivers will use throughout their careers have been released - don't ask - and a couple are interesting. If he doesn't wear No. 1, Sebastian Vettel has opted for No. 5. Everybody figures this is Nigel Mansel's famous Red 5. And Nico Hulkenburg will race No. 27. That, of course, is Gilles Villeneuve's famous number. And Fernando Alonso wants No. 14. Just think - Alonso must be a fan of A.J. Foyt!
- NORRIS McDONALD