It already feels like it has been ages since Formula 1 juggernaut Red Bull Racing began very publicly pursuing the services of Kimi Raikkonen for the 2014 season. While the world lost their minds, either positively or negatively, over the possibility of Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel teaming up this F1 junkie was curious as to what Kimi’s current employer, Lotus F1 Team, was planning on doing to keep their star on their team. Well, Lotus has finally gone public about the tug-of-war over Kimi and two top men with the team feel confident that Lotus will keep the Iceman on their team.
Lotus owner Gerard Lopez recently said that the team will be sitting down with Raikkonen’s managers this week to discuss a deal for 2014. Whether it would be a single or multi-year deal was not disclosed, but when asked what made Lotus a better destination than Red Bull for Kimi, Lopez responded, “We know him well, we know he likes it here.” The atmosphere at Lotus seems to be one of the main things that the team has going for it over RBR.
“There is a certain culture about this team that does things right, and it is the same culture that Kimi likes.” Lopez said. This sentiment was echoed by Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier in a separate interview: “I think he likes the team and the people in the team. He is comfortable with them.” Additionally Lotus doesn’t have over-bearing control of their drivers or what they do with their time, which certainly fits Raikkonen’s style. Lotus’ attitude wasn’t the only thing that the two men had the same opinion on.
Both Lopez and Boullier pointed out that the key to keeping the Iceman in black and gold was proving that they could be as competitive as Red Bull. When questioned on Lotus’ lower budget Lopez replied, “Although we have a lower budget than some other teams we do quite well with that budget”, while Boullier quipped, “With much less resources than Red Bull we still can develop the car and compete at the same level.” With the opinion that money won’t be the biggest factor in Kimi’s decision, but rather performance, it was wise of Lotus to point out that they can hang with the three-time constructor’s champion.
With a new deal to make multi-national group Infinity Racing, not associated with the automobile company that sponsors Red Bull, a partial owner it is looking like Lotus will have a bigger budget and access to more lucrative sponsors in the near future. That gives big points to Lotus in this game since it seems that Raikkonen would rather stay with the Enstone, UK based team at this point in his career.
Speaking of the Finn’s career, with Mark Webber departing Formula One Kimi will be the oldest driver in the sport. Raikkonen will be 34 years old at the beginning of the 2014 season, and considering that Michael Schumacher was just three years older than that when he retired for the first time, it likely means that Kimi is eyeballing the end of his life in F1. If retiring with the team he chooses for 2014 is a factor, it might mean that the team willing to make him a long term offer, say three or four years, would become the favorite to land Raikkonen.
Kimi has said that no matter what he decides it will be a difficult process for him and that he will have to live with the decision and not second guess things. The fact that he likes the way Lotus operates and seems to keep giving them chances to prove they can dance with the big boys by calling for improvements suggests to me that he wants to stay at Lotus as long as they are competitive.
Lopez’s smartest comment may have been when he acknowledged that the pressure is on Lotus to make Raikkonen want to stay: “It is up to us to prove that he can get the package that he wants as a driver.” My only concern is that Lotus may have let too much time slip by before fully leaping into the fray and vying for Raikkonen.