Earlier this year, I wrote all about why I believed Kimi did not belong at Red Bull. At the time of writing that piece, the rumors of a potential Kimi/Vettel pairing were still in their infancy, but I believed, and still believe, wholeheartedly that Kimi does not belong there. The culture and atmosphere at the team, regardless of what Red Bull may tell people, is just not right for the Finn.
Now I want to explain to you, mere weeks before a decision is to be made on the matter of Webber’s replacement, why Kimi needs to stay at Lotus.
It is a matter of legacy, for both Kimi Raikkonen and the Lotus team itself. Both have had their moments in the sunshine, which were all well-deserved, but both have endured their days of trial and tribulation. 2014 could be the year when both Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus cement their places in the sport’s history books.
Raikkonen’s monumental comeback in 2012 will be well documented for years to come, but Lotus’s own revival at the same time should not be discounted. Regardless of who was driving the car that year, it was a great car. Remember, it wasn’t Kimi who put the car in 3rd place on the grid for the 2012 season opener…
After a rather unceremonious parting with Ferrari at the end of 2009, Kimi found himself itching to get back in the game. The options were plentiful, but the Finn’s choice to come back with Lotus. I think he saw a very good opportunity waiting for him.
Kimi’s laid-back attitude can sometimes give onlookers the wrong impression. He cares about the sport immensely. Why else would he have come back with Lotus? The Enstone team offered him the best opportunity to just race. He could forget about the politics that plagued, and curtailed, his tenure at Ferrari and just get back to doing what he loved. Because of this opportunity, Kimi proved to the world that he cares about his legacy.
Had he hung up his helmet for good at the end of 2009, many would have remembered him as the guy who impressed throughout his career, but only won the championship at the expense of others’ losses (i.e. Alonso and Hamilton). I’m not saying that is true at all, but time is a tricky mistress, and it tends to fabricate our impressions of the past.
The unvarnished truth of the matter is, though, that Kimi Raikkonen wasn’t done. He wanted, no matter how much it may seem like he doesn’t care, to prove that he is one of the greats. Lotus gave him the opportunity to prove just that.
If, at the end of the season, Kimi Raikkonen is a double world champion, he will have accomplished what he set out to do. He will have proven that he has what it takes to bring a team out of the midfield doldrums into the spotlight of world championship status. That is what every driver wants in this sport. Think Michael Schumacher without all the controversy.
If Kimi is not champion after the Brazilian Grand Prix, then he has another chance to prove he can be. For the sake of his legacy, Kimi needs to approach every loss as another opportunity to try again.
The same goes for Lotus itself. A constructors’ title is a long shot this season, but next year offers the team another chance to prove they can be a powerful and lasting entity in Formula One.
In its various guises, Lotus has enjoyed its fair share of successes, and endured its fair share of losses. Just as Lotus struggled in 2011, it succeeded in 2012 and 2013. Lotus wants and needs to prove to the watching world that it is a team that is here to stay. Financially, that means perhaps it has to be more creative. Technically, that means it needs to think outside of the box. Mentally, that means it needs to just be tougher. If Lotus wants to be a team that all the drivers want to drive for, then they need to prove they can be. Mclaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and even Mercedes are the four teams that, from the outside, look like stable environments that can offer lasting success. Lotus needs to be the fifth team in that group.
If Kimi can cement his legacy at Lotus by winning a championship, then the way is paved for Lotus to cement their own in the very near future.