Lotus F1 Team made a splash in Formula 1 in 2012 when they landed Kimi Raikkonen upon his return to F1 and managed to pair his third place finish in the driver’s championship with a fourth place constructor’s championship showing. There were lofty expectations for Lotus heading into 2013, and thus far they have done an excellent job of meeting them.
Lotus’ first victory came long before the season started when they were the first team to launch their 2013 challenger. Though whipping back the cover on the E21 was as small of a win as there is in Formula One, it got people looking at Lotus before any other team. The team kept getting looks by appearing to be the first to figure out the 2013 Pirelli tires during preseason testing. Another small victory for the Enstone, UK based squad. Then Lotus scored the only win that really counts in F1: a race win.
Raikkonen hit the circuit at the season opening Australian Grand Prix like a bat out of hell and won by an impressive margin. Lotus drew first blood with a double-points finish pairing Kimi’s P1 with a P10 from Romain Grosjean. Lotus would build a four race streak of double point finishes with the jewel being a double-podium in Bahrain. Then things got a wee bumpy.
Kimi kept being Kimi is Spain with a P4 qualifying run and P2 race finish, but Grosjean would be forced to retire after eight laps due to a suspension problem and thus wasted a promising P6 qual, which matched his best result of 2013 at that point. Things got worse in Monaco where Kimi was robbed of a top five result due to Sergio Perez running into him from behind and Grosjean caused a crash during the race, one of many on the weekend, which retired both him and Daniel Ricciardo.
The paddock was abuzz with people who thought that Grosjean was heading straight for a repeat of his crash-happy 2012 season, but Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier insisted that Grosjean was fine and the team had faith in him. Lotus looked at Monaco as a one-off and pressed on to Canada, but Montreal was less than kind to them. Grosjean qualified a miserable P19, but would start P22 due to a penalty for causing the crash in Monaco. Raikkonen qualified P10 and finished the race P9 after lacking the pace to keep up with the leaders all weekend. In addition to lacking speed, Lotus made a strategic error with Kimi’s pit timing that led to the Iceman getting his doors blown off by drivers on fresher tires at the end of the race.
When the grid headed to the UK for the British Grand Prix, discussions quickly turned away from the race and towards 2014. Before the teams got a chance to make headlines on the track, Mark Webber stole the show by announcing that he would retire from F1 at the end of the season. As a result there would be a vacant race seat at Red Bull Racing for 2014, and the F1 media immediately assumed that Kimi would fill it.
Red Bull sponsored Raikkonen during his time in the World Rally Championship, and that coupled with his off-track friendship with Sebastian Vettel was enough to convince people that the Iceman would ditch Lotus for RBR. Raikkonen has yet to announce a decision, but I cannot see him being a number two to Vettel. Kimi is confortable at Lotus, and that is where I see him staying for 2014 and beyond.
After another lackluster race in the UK Raikkonen called the team out in the press and the feeling was that if Lotus didn’t respond on track then Kimi might make RBR his new home. Lotus answered by improving the cars and scoring a double-podium in Germany, with Kimi P2 and Grosjean P3. Kimi again found P2 in Hungary while Grosjean finished P6.
Lotus has impressed throughout the 2013 season and if they stay on pace they will finish strong. If they can step it up and start beating Red Bull and Vettel by more than just one position per race, they may be able to get Kimi his second career World Championship and put an end to half of RBR’s championship streak. At this point besting Red Bull in the constructor’s points is a very slim chance. Outside of Red Bull, no team has looked more complete than Lotus.