F1 half term report: Lotus
Despite our gloomy predictions, it’s been a fine first half of the season for Lotus. But can Kimi keep it up?
No matter what he does on the track this weekend in Belgium, Kimi Räikkönen will be the # in everyone’s Tweets. What seemed like an obvious switch to Red Bull next year seems like anything but. Instead the talk is of a move to Ferrari alongside or (depending on how much drama you like served with your gossip) as a replacement for Fernando Alonso. And that’s via the Eddie Jordan News Agency, the source that gave you Button to McLaren, Schumacher to comeback and Hamilton to Mercedes.
The more lurid take on the story is that Luca de Montezemolo and Alonso didn’t make up before heading for the beach and their feud sizzled in the August heat. Ferrari, don’t forget, doesn’t hesitate to show the door to the best drivers in the world when they feel the time is right; ask Niki Lauda, Alain Prost or, um, Kimi Räikkönen. Oh yes, let it not be forgotten that the sabbatical Kimi returned from was orchestrated by Ferrari, who were fed up of seeing their champ (their last champ) beaten by Felipe Massa. Of course, the less lurid version of the story has Kimi replacing Massa. Go figure. But do believe it; Eddie rarely gets these things wrong.
Has Räikkönen earned this redemption? When we dared to suggest earlier this year that we weren’t convinced come-back Kimi was at the height of his powers the comments box lit up, and indeed, this year, Räikkönen has been impressive — a win and five second places is as good as anyone. Anyone except Vettel, that is, whom Kimi trails by a win-and-half with nine races to go. And yet (and reaching for the body armour) you would not put good money on Räikkönen challenging for the title when you could instead put that money on Lewis Hamilton.
The problem seems to be with the Lotus car itself, and knowing just how good the E21 chassis is or isn’t. Is it ordinary, with only the talent of Räikkönen dragging it from so-so grid positions to the podium? You could use Grosjean’s form to back up that theory; we know that RoGros can be enormously fast and that raw speed is not his problem. Or is the car extraordinary, with only residual rustiness on the part of Räikkönen and the inexperience of Romain holding it back?
Either way, the easy-riding E21 is undoubtedly inconsistent. Kimi’s season-opening win suggested the engineers at Enstone had a paid appropriate attention to Pirelli’s controversial 2013 collection. But the team was so-so in the wet in Malaysia, and again in Canada. The last two of those five second places have come in the last two races, and mark something of a return to form for the team. Lotus deserves to have its number one driver second to Vettel in the drivers’ cup as they have shown direction, an absence off in so many teams we have lamented these last two weeks. Indeed if Grosjean could be depended on to turn pace to points they would not be trailing in fourth in the constructors’ trophy.
Unfortunately there is another team with an even keener trajectory and that’s Mercedes to whom we will come, finally, tomorrow. It is Mercedes who are nipping at Red Bull in the constructors and, we feel, Hamilton who will soon be taking bites out of Vettel’s lead in the drivers.
Hard to know how much that bothers Räikkönen. In the circumstances, and with the probability of a Ferrari beneath him, maybe not at all. And that can’t be good news for Lotus. McLaren lost its star driver and engineer to Mercedes last year, Lotus might be just about to do the same to Ferrari. They need to make hay in these last nine races.
Half term grades
Lotus B Plus
Räikkönen B Plus
Grojean C Plus