The Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus relationship has been steadily deteriorating in recent weeks. As Raikkonen is heading to Ferrari next season, he has not been shy in condemning the team for their poor finances, which have led to him not being paid. However, lack of payment is not the reason why Raikkonen’s management team have announced that he will not race in the final two rounds of the season – instead, the Finn will undergo surgery on Thursday to cure the trapped nerve in his back which almost ruled him out of the Singapore Grand Prix back in early October.
When the Finn made an early departure from Abu Dhabi following his Turn one calamity, many feared it could be the final glimpse of Kimi Raikkonen in the infamous black and gold. Following his public announcement that he has not been paid all season as well as news of his dire relationship with Gerard Lopez, the team’s chairman, speculation was rife as to whether Kimi would turn up to the final two races. This speculation was quelled on Tuesday, when Lotus announced that they had struck a deal with the Quantum Group, who had purchased a 35% share of the team. This was crucial, as it meant that Kimi would be paid and would therefore have no reason to break his contract and not arrive in either Austin or Sao Paulo. However, the situation has taken a dramatic new twist this morning.
Raikkonen has suffered with his back throughout his career yet the most severe pains came during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, where a trapped nerve almost ruled him out of the race. After a disappointing Saturday, Kimi fought back through the field to claim a well earned P3. Since then, any problems regarding back pain have been hidden from the media; perhaps overshadowed by the payment fiasco. The lack of media acknowledgement of Raikkonen’s back pain has made the announcement an even bigger surprise.
Rather than flying to Austin, Kimi will head to Salzburg on Thursday to have his operation. Raikkonen’s manager Steve Robertson told Autosport; “In an ideal world it would have been nice to finish the season with Lotus in the final two Grands Prix. However, due to the severe pain that Kimi is having, sadly it is not possible.” Cynics will say that Kimi is using his back gremlins as an excuse to get his payback on the team, yet the Finn is a true racer and I would find any conspiracy theories very hard to believe. Moreover, Raikkonen will want to start his second term at Ferrari in positive fashion – if he postponed his operation until after the conclusion of the season, his preparations for 2014 would be hampered by the estimated four week recovery period. Moreover, his recent performances have been poor by Kimi’s high standards and this trend would be likely to continue if he continued to race with his back condition.
Regardless, Lotus are now in a difficult position. They are desperately hunting second place in the constructors, yet need an extremely strong end to the season to wrestle the accolade of best of the rest away from Mercedes. If they place their reserve driver Davide Valsecchi in the car, he will gain valuable experience, yet he might not score any points for the team. Meanwhile, they could attempt to poach Nico Hulkenberg away from Sauber, but this would mean that Nico would have to break his contract with Sauber – if the team do owe him money, (as reports suggest), they then have a perfectly justifiable excuse to not pay up. If Hulkenberg is off to Lotus next season, he may value two additional races with the team more than the money he is owed, in which case the switch may well be an option. If he does head to Lotus for Austin, expect the news to be late in the week, as the team will surly need the deal to be finalised with Quantum before they have enough funds to buy Hulkenberg out of his contract at Sauber.