The Lotus F1 Team, which has gone by a few different names over time, had been in a coma since their last Formula 1 Driver’s Championship and Constructor’s Championship win in 1978 with Mario Andretti in the cockpit. That changed during the 2012 season though, as Lotus saw their popularity as well as their competitiveness soar, and there is a very simple explanation as to why: Kimi Raikkonen.
Raikkonen is a longtime fan favorite in F1. He is known for his extravagant post-race “Kimi Parties” as well as not being a big fan of media interviews. He is a driver’s driver and tends to be very blunt and to the point in interviews. The Iceman has better things to do.
He got his start in Formula 1 when Sauber gave the then 22 year old Raikkonen a seat for the 2001 season. He scored nine Driver’s Championship points in his debut year, which was good enough to impress McLaren, who he would drive for from 2002-2006. Raikkonen then moved to Ferrari from 2007-2009, where he won the Driver’s Championship in his first year with the team. He took two years away from F1 in 2010 and 2011 to flirt with Rallying and NASCAR before coming back to his roots in Formula 1.
When it became public knowledge that Raikkonen would be returning to F1 speculation swirled as to which team he would land with. Initially it was rumored that he would be driving for Williams F1, but those whispers were proven false. Many thought Red Bull Racing would make room for him since he raced for Red Bull’s Rally team, but with both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on multi-year contracts at the time Red Bull had to pass on the Iceman. There was talk of him finding a home back with McLaren or Ferrari, but in the end it was Lotus, who had just wrapped up a dispute over naming rights in 2011, who snagged Raikkonen on a two-year deal.
Kimi was paired up with the young Frenchman Romain Grosjean and finished 7th and 5th in his first two races back in the cockpit. He would finish 14th at the Chinese Grand Prix, but that would be his only non-Top 10 finish of the season. After being out of a driver seat for two years Raikkonen wrapped up the 2012 season with one win, a total of seven podium appearances and finished third in points in the Driver’s Championship. The Iceman is a machine, and Lotus should be thanking the Formula 1 gods that he is driving for them.
Grosjean on the other hand had more races that he retired from than podium finishes in 2012, yet Lotus still ended up 4th in the Constructor’s standings with 303 points. 207 of those points came from Raikkonen.
Then there was the fan reaction. All the Raikkonen fans that had been eagerly awaiting his return flocked to purchase Lotus gear. Fan websites exploded with Lotus content because Kimi was back and racing like Kimi. If you were to explore the multitude of “Top F1 passes of 2012” blog entries and video galleries, you will find them littered with images of Raikkonen and videos of him blowing the doors off of Michael Schumacher at the Belgian Grand Prix. Not to mention the now infamous moment from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
For those of you who don’t know, during the race in Abu Dhabi, Raikkonen’s pit crew was constantly reminding him via the radio to keep his tires warm and to do other things that Kimi Raikkonen knows he needs to do. Finally Raikkonen came across the radio with a simple message: “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing”. The Iceman wasn’t lying as he went on to win the race. A few days later he passed out T-Shirts to the crew with the quote emblazoned on them. Replicas of those shirts are now for sale on the Lotus F1 Team website. Lotus is back in a big way, and they have Raikkonen to thank for that.
If it wasn’t for the Iceman, Lotus wouldn’t have been anywhere near 4th in the constructor’s points and they damn sure wouldn’t have had a driver finish 3rd in driver’s points. Kimi Raikkonen revived Lotus in Formula 1, and they would be very wise to hold on to him far beyond the end of his current contract, which is up at the end of the 2013 season.