Abu Dhabi: Imagine a Formula One race without its defending champion.
This could have well been the case at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had it not been for some convincing done by the Lotus F1 Team’s top brass.
Kimi Raikkonen, the ‘Iceman’ of F1 circuit, has reportedly not been in the best of moods during the latter part of the ongoing season — and with good reasons. In September, it was confirmed that the Finn had signed a two-year contract for a return to Ferrari starting in 2014. This was evident at last week’s Indian Grand Prix, where team officials were heard on team radio giving teammate Romain Grosjean the preference to go for podium.
Raikkonen’s 24-year-old teammate finished in third for the third consecutive time this season, while the Iceman saw his car veer off into the grass, thereby bringing his race to a premature end.
After India, Raikkonen headed back home while the other teams headed to Abu Dhabi. While all the top drivers checked into the UAE capital by Wednesday, there was no sign of the Finn, sending panic among the rank and file of the Lotus set-up. Raikkonen was scheduled to attend Rexona’s ‘Helmets for Head’ road safety initiative on board the yacht Jasmin, but he did not turn up there.
Luxembourg-born Lotus team chairman Gerard Lopez was desperately trying to convince Raikkonen to travel to Abu Dhabi for the 17th race on the 19-round calendar. Sources within the team, on strict condition of anonymity, told Gulf News that Raikkonen was in no mood to relent and make the six-hour flight from Geneva to Abu Dhabi.
The team management, however, kept saying until Thursday that the Finnish driver had missed his flight and he would be eventually heading into the UAE in time for the race. Lopez eventually made the breakthrough on Thursday and convince the 2007 world champion and defending champion in Abu Dhabi to make the trip for the sake of the team.
Lopez said on the team’s website: “Of course, recently a lot was made about the comments between Alan Permane and Kimi during the course of a tense moment in a race, but this was just one exchange, taking a matter of seconds, in the course of a two-year relationship.
“It certainly wasn’t the most beneficial few seconds, but you have to step back and accept that everyone is passionate about racing and sometimes these things do happen.”
Lopez insisted that the situation between Lotus and Raikkonen was exaggerated. “One of the unfortunate things about being in the limelight is that people are always trying to make it look like there are huge fights going on,” he said.