Lotus has announced that Nick Chester will become its new technical director, as it confirmed James Allison's departure in a surprise announcement Wednesday.
It is not known where Allison (LEFT) is heading, but the most obvious destinations would be McLaren, Mercedes or Ferrari. However, McLaren has ruled out the possibility, and Mercedes already has a wealth of technical directors. That leaves Ferrari – which has been on a recruitment drive over recent seasons – as clear favorite.
Sources suggest that Allison has signed a contract forbidding him from revealing his new employer until it makes the announcement.
Allison is a stalwart of the Lotus/Renault team, having originally joined the outfit in the aero department when it was known as Benetton in 1991. His sojourn was broken up by spells at Larrousse and Ferrari, but he was back at Benetton in between. His current stint began during the Renault years in 2005, and he became technical director four years later.
Team boss Eric Boullier said promoting Chester from his current role as engineering director would minimize the ripples caused by Allison's exit.
"Nick is well known to everyone having been with the team for over 12 years," said Boullier. "He is already directly involved with this and next year's cars, ensuring a smooth transition which has been underway for some time.
"It's an illustration of the strength and breadth of talent at Enstone [the team's UK base] that we can draw on personnel of the caliber of Nick and it's something of an Enstone tradition for new technical directors to be promoted from within.
"He assumes his new position at a tremendously exciting time for the sport. The 2014 technical regulation changes present many challenges, while our current position of second place in both the constructors' and drivers' world championships mean we cannot lose sight of this year's development battle.
"Nick really has his work cut out, but we know he is more than capable of handling the tasks ahead."
Boullier also paid tribute to Allison's contribution to the team.
"As a team and individually, we would all like to thank James Allison for his efforts during his three stints at Enstone and wish him all the best in his future endeavous," he said.
NICK CHESTER TIMELINE
1995: Joins the Arrows team as a race engineer
2000: Switches to Benetton as a race engineer
2005: Promoted to head of vehicle performance group.
2010: Becomes head of performance systems.
2012: Appointed engineering director of Lotus.
OPINION: A blow, but not a surprise
The loss of technical director James Allison is a serious blow to Lotus, but it comes as no surprise. He has been the subject of interest from several major teams, notably Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes, of late and came close to leaving the team several months ago.
Then, he turned down significantly more lucrative offers to stay at Lotus having been convinced that the team did have the necessary resources to continue to be competitive. Largely, this was down to his loyalty to a team that he has worked for on and off since 1991. But rivals have continued to pursue him.
In Allison, Lotus has lost a key player. Since being promoted to technical director ahead of the 2010 season, he has overseen the team's re-emergence as a race-winning and perhaps even title-challenging force, with his intelligence and expertise doubly effective thanks to a formidable work ethic that stands out even by F1 standards.
It is impossible to say what effect his departure will have on Lotus. As far as 2013 is concerned, he will already have played a key role in the development parts scheduled to be bolted onto the nimble Lotus E21 over the next few months, so the real question is what it means for the future, particularly with the new engine formula coming in for 2014.
On the positive side, Lotus is set to promote from within rather than poach from another team, meaning the technical department that he led so effectively will remain largely intact. Fortunately, it is far from a one-man show, with some very highly-rated staff, including Allison's replacement Nick Chester and head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer among the key factory-based technical personnel.
The key now is for Lotus to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.