By Alan Baldwin
SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Nico Hulkenberg's chances of replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus were boosted on Tuesday after the Formula One team said weight would not be a major factor in their choice of driver.
The issue has become a hot topic in the sport, with the introduction of a new and heavier V6 turbo power unit and energy recovery systems next year giving more of an advantage to the lighter drivers.
Germany's Hulkenberg is one of the tallest and, at 78 kilos, heaviest drivers. The ideal weight next season is likely to be between 60 and 65 kg.
"We're more interested in the talent and potential of a driver rather than the difference of a few kilos," said Lotus team principal Eric Boullier in a team preview of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.
"We have confidence in our development team to be able to produce a car for the 2014 regulations which should be competitive in the hands of any driver we consider for next year."
Boullier, who needs to replace Raikkonen after the Finn signed to return to Ferrari next season, has made no secret of his interest in Sauber's Hulkenberg.
The German finished fourth in South Korea last weekend and had also been considered for the Ferrari seat.
Sauber have said they want to bring 18-year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin into the sport, if he can get a superlicence, as part of a deal with new Russian backers and Hulkenberg is expected to leave.
The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) has increased the minimum weights of car and driver by 50kg for 2014 but the bigger drivers say that is not enough and the weight should go up another 10kg in the interests of fairness and safety.
McLaren's Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, said at the race in Yeongam that something had to change.
"It's a crazy situation to be in. With so many rule changes, obviously the weight limit has gone up but for a driver to have to worry about his weight that much is wrong," he told reporters.
"This is something that could be solved very easily. And it should not stop people looking at heavier drivers (for race seats), especially if they are tall."
McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh doubted, however, that anything would be done to change it in the short term.
"We need unanimity to change this and I rather doubt we'll get it," he said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)