Saturday, July 7, 2012

F1 Transfer Review: Raikkonen for Lotus F1

F1 Transfer Review:

Lotus F1 Team Transfer #2


Disclaimer: In case you happen to be a die-hard Kimi Raikkonen fan, you probably shouldn't read this.

In a certain sense, Lotus changing both their drivers after 2011 can be regarded as commendable, at least when you are faced with the example of their Maranello-based F1 counterparts. Despite the fact both Kimi and Romain had prior F1 experience, making them your new lineup was always going to be a risk. In the case of Romain, I have already argued that Lotus have made a good move. But what about his far more famous counterpart? Were Lotus in the right in signing him? Was Bruno Senna not given enough of a chance, when he was booted off after half a year of racing in a car that was, by most accounts, bloody terrible?

Imagine yourself as the head of the Lotus F1 team. As it is the end of 2011, you've got plenty of drivers lining up, ready to take the available seats in your team, even despite the, quite frankly, poor performance during that year. The guy you go with, however, is a person with no F1 experience under his belt for the last two years who, while unquestionably fast and talented, also has a bit of a tendency to become disinterested when not winning. Were this my choice, I'd wonder why this option even came up and then call Timo, Adrian or Heikki.

Lotus, on the other hand, did not decide to call Timo, Adrian or Heikki. Perhaps a bit disenchanted after their experience with Nick Heidfeld (who I still maintain was reasonably quick and did not deserve to be dropped), perhapds just being the usual overly-ambitious squad they ever were, Lotus went ahead and signed 2007 World Champion, fan favorite and suspected robot Kimi Raikkonen.

I'll be honest here. As I write this, I still have no idea what to make of this move. After China, I was left sincerely doubting that Kimi had a shot at success here, yet then came Bahrain and his near-win. However, four races and two Kimi podiums later, I feel that some conclusions can already be drawn.

Why is it a good move?
  • Consistency - if we take all the races of 2012 so far, only once has Kimi finished outside of the top-10. To put that into perspective, out of the other 23 drivers the same is true only for Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton, while Fernando Alonso is the only driver who finished every race in the points. In the standings, Fernando is first, followed by Mark and Lewis. Most experts have agreed that consistency is key this year and Kimi has plenty of that. He hasn't been involved in any major accidents with other drivers so far, while most of his overtaking manouevres have been clean and precise. It doesn't look like this is likely to win him the title or anything, but at least you can be certain it keeps Lotus happy.
  • Fan favourite - the fans love Kimi. Don't ask me why, because I sure as hell have no idea, but they do. He is fairly outspoken and honest, but I'm surprised anyone takes note because you can usually barely hear him. However, one way or another, signing Kimi was an undeniably great PR move and if there ever was a team that really needed some of those, it's Lotus.
  • Concentration - Kimi is obviously a lot more experience than Romain and that shows, not only just in races where, unlike the Frenchman, he usually has no issues going through lap 1. However, same thing really shows in qualifying. While Romain has the pace to fight for pole but never quite manages to get that lap together in Q3, Kimi, quite frankly, doesn't. However, even though his pace seems to indicate he should have trouble even getting into Q3, he usually manages to do that with one collected last effort. 
What could've been better?
  • Qualifying pace - it's... it's pretty dreadful. So far it's 6-3 in favour of Romain if we count the actual time set in qualifying. Not exactly the result you would expect if you were to pit a relative rookie against a world champion. Ande, despite his ability to get that one lap together, Kimi has managed to miss Q3 three times, while in one of those he didn't even get as far as Q2. You could blame it on the car, I guess, but you really shouldn't - as evident from Grosjean's results, Lotus hasn't brought a non-Q3 car to a weekend yet this season.
  • Complainer - the thing that possibly got Vitaly fired surely is an issue with Kimi. Since the Spanish Grand Prix or so, Kimi has been dissatisfied with his car's steering, which is nothing too unusual in itself - ex-Lotus driver Jarno Trulli complained about it for all of 2011. However, the response he got from the team was unlike anything I've personally seen before - the team said it already designed six(!) versions of the steering and that they won't be doing another one. To add to that, one of the team members was quoted by a German magazine as having said that the situation was like dealing with a child. Not sure who to blame here, but a bit of a disaster all around, ain't it?
  • Winning - so, Kimi, like, really really wants to win and isn't satisfied with anything but the top spot of the podium. And, while it's perfectly understandable for him to feel that way in a season where we've already seen Maldonado score his maiden victory, sometimes it gets more than a little ridiculous. After Valencia, Kimi didn't seem too happy with his second place which, for a guy who had a fairly low-key race and was gifted a podium after two retirements and a crash, is just wrong. It's easy to imagine Lotus are already having problems with that attitude.
Other options?

The other drivers Lotus could've went with I listed off already in my piece on Grosjean. It's hard to tell whether Adrian Sutil or Jaime Alguersuari would've been higher up in the standings than Raikkonen, the likely answer being "no" - quite frankly, neither of them have the experience of racing on that level. But surely they would also be less trouble for the team. As for Bruno Senna, the season he's having probably proves that Lotus have made the right call. More on that later.

Verdict: Lotus have done well with Kimi so far, but there's a sneaking suspicion that his overreaching ambitions might be too much even for Boullier. While not a lot of people doubted it after Bahrain, at this point you can't say for sure whether the victory Lotus wants so much is even going to happen in 2012 and, if it does, there's certainly a chance it could come from Grosjean. And, should Kimi not win a race this year, Lotus risk either losing him or, what could be even worse, completely demotivating the Iceman.

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