Enstone, England - Gerard Lopez has replaced Frenchman Eric Boullier as principal of the unsettled Lotus Formula One team.
The timing of the news immediately triggered speculation that Boullier could be heading to McLaren, which was due to launch its 2014 car later in the day in an online presentation.
McLaren, which had a miserable 2013 season without a single podium finish, has yet to say who will lead the team after Martin Whitmarsh lost his position of overall group chief executive to his returning predecessor Ron Dennis.
Whitmarsh has been silent following last week's ‘coup’, with other senior McLaren employees quoted in press releases since then.
“Gerard Lopez, will combine his position on the board with the role of Team Principal with immediate effect,” Lotus said in a statement that barely mentioned Boullier other than to thank him for his four-year contribution in the final paragraph.
Boullier played a major part in keeping the ship steady in 2013.
He appeared as the public face of the team with constant reassurances that all would be well, as Lotus was successful on track but struggled financially off it, with talk of significant investment from the Middle East that never materialised.
Despite the cash-flow problems, it won with Kimi Raikkonen in Australia, finishing fourth overall and ahead of McLaren.
Boullier was also instrumental in signing Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who brings substantial backing from his country's state oil company PDVSA, from Williams as replacement for Raikkonen who had complained about not being paid his wages.
However, Lotus has lost a number of key technical staff to other teams in recent months.
The team is also yet to confirm the renewal of its engine partnership with Renault, although that is taken as a given, and the only team to have said it will not attend next week's opening pre-season test in Jerez, Spain.
That test is considered particularly important, given significant rule changes, as the first chance for teams to try out on track the new V6 turbo engine and its complex energy recovery systems.
Lotus explained the change at the top as a strengthening of its management structure and to “further increase Genii's role in the team. It said it would announce new commercial partners and sponsors when it unveiled its new car in February at the second pre-season test in Bahrain.
Lopez is chairman of Luxembourg-based Genii Capital, which controls Lotus - the former championship-winning Renault team.