Day Eight: Lotus

On the eighth day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me… Lotus

Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean
Championship Standings: 4th
Highest Finish: 1st (Kimi, Australia)

Lotus were one of four teams not making a driver change between 2012 and 2013. The consistency would give them a slight advantage on the likes of McLaren and Mercedes who each had new drivers who would need time to get used to their respective cars. Kimi qualified seventh ahead of Romain in eighth but through a strong strategy and an impressive pace from the ‘Iceman’, Kimi took the first win of the season. On the other hand, Grosjean dropped from eighth to tenth to take the last points finish on offer.

Due to a three-place penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg in Qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, Raikkonen started seventh for the second time in a row, but unlike in Australia, there was no Sunday charge in Malaysia as he finished the race seventh and behind Romain who finished sixth. Raikkonen overcame slight contact with Perez in China to finish right behind race-winner Alonso while Grosjean brought the car home in ninth. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of Kimi in second and Romain in third to replicate the 2012 podium at the same circuit. It was Grosjean’s first podium finish since the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Kimi finished second for the third consecutive race in Catalunya, again finishing behind Alonso. Grosjean dropped out of the race in the opening stages with a suspension failure on his E21. He also failed to finish the Monaco Grand Prix, making some dodgy overtaking manoeuvres into the Nouvelle chicane and finally rear-ending Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo at high-speed. The collision earned him a ten-place grid penalty for the Canadian Grand Prix, alongside a renewed wave of criticism towards the Frenchman. Kimi was also in the wars. Refusing to give the reckless Perez room into the same Nouvelle chicane, Sergio out-braked himself and hit the Lotus. Apart from a verbal blasting from Kimi, Perez escaped penalty-free.

Raikkonen’s ninth place at the Canadian Grand Prix saw him equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 25 consecutive points finishes. He has finished in the points in every race since the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix and also not suffered a single retirement since his return to the in March 2012.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber had another of his infamous slow starts at the British Grand Prix and dropped back into the mid-field scrap through turn 1. Going three abreast into the corner, Button pushed Grosjean into Webber and caused the Aussie some minor front wing damage. Romain eventually dropped from the race, one lap from the end, with a handling problem. Raikkonen tried an alternative strategy to try to finish on the podium but soon dropped to fifth by the end of the race.

The Lotus’, especially Romain Grosjean, were in a world of their own and had they not suffered a poorer than expected Qualifying session, would’ve taken the win. Nonetheless, Grosjean put a fantastic fight to race-leader and eventual winner Sebastian Vettel before Kimi swooped in to take second off his team-mate in a team-orchestrated move. Grosjean finished third.

Grosjean’s new and improved pace carried over to Hungary where he narrowly missed out on pole position and started third. In  the race however, he dropped back and in his attempts to move up the grid moved across McLaren’s Jenson Button into the chicane and earned himself a verbal lashing from the Briton. He also won himself a post-race drive-through penalty. As if one wasn’t bad enough, he earned a second one for overtaking Ferrari’s Felipe Massa off track limits. However, this ruling was blasted by fans and drivers alike as the line Grosjean took was the line every driver takes on a normal lap. Even Massa defended Grosjean, claiming the ruling was ridiculous. Raikkonen finished the race in second while Romain dropped to sixth.

Coming back from the summer break, Kimi Raikkonen’s run of finishes since his return in 2012 came to an end, following a brakes failure mid-race in which he narrowly avoided t-boning Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. In the other Lotus, Grosjean lost several places when Perez forced him off the track and earned himself a drive-through penalty. He eventually finished eighth.

Paul di Resta crashed out of the Italian Grand Prix when he overshot his braking zone on the first lap and rear-ended Romain Grosjean’s E21. The huge collision caused Di Resta to retire on the spot but, incredibly, there was no damage done to Grosjean’s Lotus. Perez was also up to his old tricks, forcing Kimi to dip his wheels onto the grass on the first lap. Grosjean finished eighth while Raikkonen took yet another no-points race, crossing the line in eleventh. Post-race it was confirmed that Raikkonen was leaving Lotus to return to Ferrari for 2014.

Raikkonen had a relatively poor qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix and started the race in thirteenth, while complaining of lower back pain. Grosjean qualified third and was looking for a good shot at the lead of the race when a pneumatic problem is his car necessitated a minute-long pit stop and a subsequent retirement – a real blow for the Frenchman. Raikkonen finished the race on the podium, in third.

Grosjean was fourth in Qualifying for the Korean Grand Prix while Raikkonen started tenth. Raikkonen’s stunning performance saw him steal second from Grosjean, although probably team-orchestrated, in the final laps. Grosjean was fourth in Qualifying again in Japan and subsequently took his second consecutive podium when he finished third. Raikkonen progressed from ninth to fifth.

The two team-mates came to blows during the closing stages of the Indian Grand Prix. A faster Romain Grosjean came up behind Raikkonen who initially disregarded calls to move aside for his team-mate. His actions forced Lotus track operations director Alan Permane to come on the team-radio to “get out the f*cking way!” which, naturally, prompted an angry nonsensical mumbling reply from Kimi who eventually obliged and let Grosjean past. Grosjean had amazingly gone from seventeenth in Qualifying to take his third consecutive podium, again finishing third. Kimi finished seventh and was getting slowly more and more publicly agitated with Lotus who, he announced, hadn’t paid him a cent all season.

The rest of Raikkonen’s season with the team wasn’t all too long-lived. His car was disqualified from Qualifying when the front wing failed a deflection test, which meant Kimi started twenty-second. At the first corner of the race, he stuck his nose in between the apex and a turning Caterham and broke his suspension, ending his race. Post-race he announced that he was to undergo back surgery ahead of next season, which would force him to miss the final two races.

Instead of using their reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, who is a reserve driver for that particular reason, Lotus opted to put Heikki Kovalainen in their car for the two remaining races, after both Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher refused the seat. Kovalainen showed an early stunning pace in the Lotus, particularly impressive as it was the first time that he had driven the car, but he dropped from eighth to fourteenth during the race. In the other Lotus, Grosjean finished second – up one place from his third in Qualifying.

And so to the final race of the season. Kovalainen lined up eleventh on the grid while Grosjean qualified sixth for the last race of the season. Grosjean’s season ended far quicker than he was expecting, though, with his engine giving up on the second lap of the 71 lap race. This left Kovalainen as the sole remaining Lotus, and he eventually finished fourteenth.

Romain Grosjean was probably the most impressive improvement in terms of drivers between 2012 and 2013 – going from ‘first lap nutcase’ to worthy team leader in the space of a winter-break. He has demonstrated his talent to lead the team following Kimi’s departure from the team. Indeed, he ran circles around the Finn in the latter part of the season. As for the other seat, Lotus were forced to look to Pastor Maldonado for his $17 million sponsorship from PDVSA for 2014. While the so-called ‘Quantum’ motorsports deal would have allowed Lotus to put Nico Hulkenberg in their car, once the spokesperson Mansoor Ijaz was exposed as nothing more than an attention starved con-man, the chances of Hulkenberg’s seat plummeted.  2014 should be interesting.

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