With the whirl wind of media attention around who will fill the soon to be vacant race seat at Red Bull Racing it seems that one thing has been left out of the equation: the final decision will be left to the driver that RBR invites to join them.
The seat will be vacated by Mark Webber who will be leaving Red Bull and Formula 1 at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Thus far RBR Team Principal Christian Horner has name dropped three drivers that Red Bull is looking at to replace Aussie Grit: Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Jean-Eric Vergne.
If Ricciardo or Vergne get the nod then there really won’t be any question of if they will leave Toro Rosso for Red Bull. Toro Rosso is really a glorified development team for RBR after all, so it will be an easy and mystery free decision for either of those drivers if Red Bull calls on them. That is not at all the case with Raikkonen.
Somehow the F1 media world has come to the conclusion that Kimi would bail on Lotus F1 Team without hesitation if he were asked to take the seat at Red Bull. That is far from the truth though. Raikkonen has stated that any decision on his 2014 ride will be a difficult one, and signs point towards him being willing to give Lotus a fair shake at keeping him.
The Iceman basically revived Lotus in Formula One when he made his return to the sport with them for the 2012 season. Since then he has given them both of their two wins and has accounted for 11 of the team’s 15 podium finishes. There is no way that Lotus is going to simply let Kimi walk away without a fight.
Raikkonen was very vocally critical of Lotus following the British Grand Prix when a poor pit strategy decision cost him what looked to be an easy P2 finish and saw him finish off the podium in P5. That only added to frustrations from their practice sessions when a passive drag reduction device the team had been developing for some time didn’t test well. It looked to the world like Kimi was angry and that the bad pit call could be the thing to cause him to walk away if asked to by Red Bull. That wasn’t how I saw it though.
Kimi was angry, there is no doubt about that, and he was calling the team out publicly for their mistake and saying that he wanted to see immediate improvements. Later in the week he enforced this by saying that the team really needed a podium, if not a double podium, finish at the German Grand Prix in order to right the ship. I saw all of that as Kimi giving Lotus a chance to prove that they really are a top notch F1 team and thus giving them the opportunity to convince him to stay past the end of his contract, which expires at the conclusion of the season.
The Iceman likes Lotus. He has the freedom there to do what he needs to in order to feel comfortable in the cockpit and just be Kimi. I think that the attitude of the team and the general way they conduct their business on the track, in the paddock, and back in Enstone, UK at the team’s headquarters are a big reason why Raikkonen is in no rush to jump ship. If Lotus can give Kimi a solid car and make the right calls in order to get the win at Nuburgring, or at least land on the podium, it will go a long way towards helping their chances of keeping Raikkonen.
Lotus has already made positive progress by improving considerably in qualifying, which has been their weakest point, at the German GP. Kimi will start P4 and his team mate Romain Grosjean will occupy P5 on the starting grid.
Raikkonen is Red Bull’s top choice to replace Mark Webber, and in a recent interview Horner said that picking a new driver would be a team decision. That is true, but what he and many around F1 have forgotten is that if RBR picks Kimi then the decision on who fills that vacant Red Bull seat will belong to the Iceman. In many ways, it already does.
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