Lotus loss is gain for Ferrari

Barry Oliver
Barry Oliver

KIMI Raikkonen's decision to leave the cash-strapped Lotus team at the end of the season to join the mega- dollar-funded Ferrari team is a sound commercial decision for the Finnish driver but will it turn out to be a happy return?

The taciturn driver, who is renowned for his monosyllabic answers, raced for Ferrari from 2007-09, winning the world championship in 2007 before being dumped at the end of 2009 to make way for Fernando Alonso.

At that point he still had a year to go on his contract and it was reported that Ferrari was forced to pay him a significant amount to leave bearing in mind that in the first year of his contract Raikkonen was reputedly paid a $51 million fee, not including prizemoney and endorsements.

Just what Ferrari will be paying this time for the two- year deal is unknown but, money aside, it will remain to be seen how he will fit into the team with Alonso clearly the number one driver.

One reason why Raikkonen is leaving Lotus is that it has been claimed he has not been paid one cent of his outstanding $21million fee.

Raikkonen chose to walk away from formula one at the end of 2009 claiming he wasn't interested in competing unless it was with a competitive team and at that stage there were no options available.

Instead, he took a two- year sabbatical and drove in 21 World Rally championship rounds for the Citroen junior rally team.

At the end of 2011 he was lured back to formula one, signing for Lotus alongside Romain Grosjean, to finish third in the 2012 championship and finishing every one of the 20 races.

While he has only scored two wins since his return to formula one, his consistency has been remarkable having only recorded two DNFs in 37 starts.

The driver they call "The Iceman" has finished on the podium 15 times in the past two years and only once outside the top 10.

With two races to go he is third in the standings, just 34 points behind Alonso and eight in front of Lewis Hamilton, so while Sebastian Vettel has already wrapped up the title the battle for the minor places will go down to the wire.

Meanwhile, his place at Lotus looks set to go to Nico Hulkenberg who is currently racing for the Sauber team.

Lotus is owned by Gernii Capital which is in the process of finalising a deal to sell a 35 per cent interest in the team to the Quantum Group.

It is understood that Quantum is adamant that Hulkenberg's services need to be secured and Lotus is understandably under pressure to accede to the requirement.

Just to muddy the waters, Williams driver Pastor Maldonado is supposed to be in the frame for the drive at Lotus on the basis that he has $60 million of sponsorship in his pocket courtesy of giant oil and gas company PVDSA in Venezuela.

Bearing in mind its parlous financial state, Maldonado would be an attractive proposition to Lotus but there is no question "The Hulk" would be more likely to score race wins.

Just to add some spice, next year there will be significant changes to the technical regulations for formula one which most importantly includes a change to 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engines.

That could have a major impact as to who the front- running teams will be for the new era irrespective of driver changes.