Now that the dust has settled over Lotus’s deal with Quantum Motorsports, I’ve been reflecting on Kimi Raikkonen’s season. There is a very close connection between the monosyllabic Finn and the millions of Euros secured through the Enstone squad’s commercial partnership, being that much of the drama surrounding Kimi’s departure from the team at the end of this season was hinged on Lotus’s inability to secure the deal in a timely manner.
A sudden development the deal with Quantum wasn’t. The process was utterly painful in its duration, and perhaps hints at a weakness in the Enstone team’s ability to manage success (sounds crazy, right?). They are no stranger to success, nor are they to demanding drivers, but you could say they are out of practice. Before Lotus’s fantastic double podium in Bahrain last season, no driver of Enstone “heritage” had appeared on any of the top-3 steps since Nick Heidfeld just over a year before in Malaysia. And before 2012, they hadn’t had to deal with a “big name” driver since 2009, when Fernando Alonso was in his second year at the team, then known as Renault, after an…interesting…year at Mclaren. And before THAT, the team hadn’t won a championship since 2006. Indeed, the stretch of time between championship successes since 2006 is long–indeterminable, in fact, as this season’s title was wrapped up early, and not in either Kimi or Romain’s name.
So, it has been a while since Enstone has been on a constant diet of success. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to handle it. They are a clever bunch, especially since Eric Boullier took over as team principal in 2010. He has arguably been the guiding light of the team in their quest for glory once again.
When Lotus took on Kimi Raikkonen for 2012, they knew what they were getting into. Kimi is a no-nonsense, straightforward guy who, if things go his way, or at least don’t get out of control, is a perfectly amicable, often funny man. Up and down the paddock ring similar sentiments. He is a nice guy that means business when the time calls for it.
2013 was that time.
He proved the year before that he was in fact a motivated driver. He proved it time and time again when he drove perhaps just beyond the limits of the car to stay in championship contention until the third-to-last race. There were no questions about his motivation. At least until recently.
The success of 2012 allowed for the business Kimi to come out. No longer was Formula One just about driving the car fast and then going home on Sunday night. Formula One was now a part of his life he was fully committed to, and he underlined that commitment by winning the season opener in Australia. That will undoubtedly go down as one of the favorite wins of the season, despite it being a rather chaotic race in terms of tires. That drama took a backseat to the Kimi win.
Kimi turned out to be quite the credible championship contender in 2013. That fire has gone out in the wake of Sebastian Vettel’s seven consecutive wins, clearly, but every weekend, you can never count out Kimi to make a surprise. That undoubtedly added to the disappointment that was the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We all desperately wanted to see what Kimi could do from the back of the grid.
But just as Kimi’s championship challenge gained traction in the opening races of the season, it dwindled by the summer break, when the team’s struggles to get their “Device” working properly shed light on the team’s underlying financial woes. That was the first tangible, if you like, example of Lotus’s weakness. The reports, however, spoke for themselves: “Lotus reports huge losses from 2012” was not an uncommon headline from the summer break. The alarms were ringing loud and clear, and Kimi was the first to hear.
This is where the title of this post comes into play, though. When money troubles reared its ugly head, why did Kimi decide to jump ship? Undoubtedly, Kimi sought assurance that the team’s competitiveness would stay over the coming years. No driver wants uncertainty in that department. But the move came across, to this writer at least, as slightly hypocritical. Kimi came back to Formula One to drive and fight for wins. He didn’t want the drama that came from Ferrari between 2007-2009, and Lotus offered the best balance of competitiveness and drama. Until he moved teams, ironically.
It was soon after Kimi’s confirmation at Ferrari that Lotus began to worry about its finances. Rumors that the Finn was yet to be paid and that numerous employees had their paychecks delayed only fueled the fire of the team’s supposed demise. Indeed, it did look like Lotus’s time in F1 was limited.
All this uncertainty surrounding the deal with Quantum, who the team would hire to replace Raikkonen and when Raikkonen would be paid culminated at (really just before) the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when Kimi threatened to not race the last three events if he wasn’t paid.
I was disappointed at his approach to the situation. You can’t blame the guy for wanting the money due to him. Being a Formula One driver is not an easy job, and when you struggle to get the top results you want as your teammate makes a surge in competitiveness, all you really want is to be paid, at least. Kimi was perfectly right in saying there was a line that Lotus was about to cross. What I struggle to wrap my head around is why Kimi made such a big deal about not being paid.
I know this sounds very simplistic, but three races would not have killed the guy. It would have been much better for Kimi, the team and their future commercial partners if he had just waited out the rest of the season to work out his finances. His threat to not race the final three events put his team, which has remained faithful, loyal and understanding when many would have lost their patience, in an incredibly vulnerable and negative light. It was a disservice to Lotus and the fantastic opportunity they gave to Kimi at the beginning of 2012. That is why this post is about the curious case of Kimi Raikkonen. For all the drama he seeks to avoid, why did he go and create some of his own?
I wish that camera had not shown Kimi leaving the Yas Marina circuit in his car after he was knocked out of the race on the first lap. I really wish it hadn’t. It only served to perpetuate the unfortunate situation Lotus and Kimi have found themselves in. We can only hope now that the influx of cash from Quantum Motorsports will help prevent a similar situation to this from ever happening again. No team should have to endure it.