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Pre-Spa analysis - absent Raikkonen in the spotlight 23 Aug 2013

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21 finished second.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing at the autograph session.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 22 August 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing walks the track with a Renault Sport Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 22 August 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 22 August 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 talks with the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 22 August 2013 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1, Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal, race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing celebrate on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian

Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen was much discussed yesterday, even though the Finn was not in Spa-Francorchamps.

The official reason for the absence of the 2007 world champion was illness and a Lotus team spokesman insisted he will be present for duty this morning. But in the meantime the rumours about the real reason and about his future swirled around the paddock after Red Bull’s recent suggestion that after months of speculation they would not be signing him as team mate to Sebastian Vettel in 2014.

His manager Steve Robertson had spoken of options when that news broke - fuelling speculation that Ferrari might be interested in re-signing him to replace Felipe Massa despite extremely acrimonious relationships with both Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team principal Stefano Domenicali before he left a year early at the end of 2009.

"If Lotus can provide him with the answers he is seeking, which will ensure he has a car that can fight for race wins and the championship, then he will stay," Robertson had said.

There were suggestions that Fernando Alonso would accept him as a team mate, just as Vettel had said he would back in July, and yesterday the German reiterated his comments.

“I think ideally you would like someone who is competitive, as competitive as you are, so that we are pushing each other. You don’t have to be best friends with whoever is racing next to you. At the end of the day you have to work for the team. I think that’s one of the most important bits, so you work in the same direction and hopefully ensure that the car gets faster, you pull in the same direction in terms of car development. I think that’s the most important thing. Whether you like each or not is not that important. If it’s the case, then probably it’s a bonus, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.

“I didn’t know how realistic it was or not, with Kimi. Obviously I’ve learned similar to most of us from the press that as it looks, it’s not the case. For sure I’m talking with the team, but as I’ve said many times, it’s not my decision and also I don’t want to get too involved. I think Kimi would have been nice in many ways. Now it’s not happening so it doesn’t make much sense to talk about that, but who knows? He’s still young, I’m still young so I don’t know. A lot of things can still happen. Never say never, but probably for next year it’s not going to happen.

“I get along quite well with him so I would be happy in a way if he finds a spot where he’s happy. I think he has a good seat at the moment with Lotus but if he can improve then I would be happy for him. He’s very straightforward, you don’t get any bullsh*t with him and politics, so in that regard I don’t know how realistic it is for him to return to Ferrari. Obviously he’s been there and then Fernando came and Kimi left to go rallying. I think he’s very uncomplicated.”

Lewis Hamilton was wryly sceptical.

Relaxed and fit after spending the summer break training, working on his music and basking in the afterglow of his extraordinary victory in Hungary, the Mercedes driver said he was not remotely surprised that Red Bull had seemingly decided against signing Raikkonen.

“Ferrari have got Fernando and Red Bull have got Sebastian, and those two teams like to have their number one drivers,” he said. “As for Seb and Fernando saying they would be happy to have Kimi as a team mate… They would say that, but I don’t believe anything that’s been said. I just don’t think they feel that they can be seen saying the wrong thing…”

Hamilton fancies his chances over the rest of the season. “It’s the best feeling I can remember going into the second half of a season,” he said. “We have to stop Sebastian winning over the next few races. He’s quite far ahead so we constantly need to be gaining. But Red Bull haven’t been that strong here so hopefully we can close things up again this weekend.

“The way I look at it, I’m not second in the championship, I’m fourth, so there are two guys to leapfrog, Kimi and Fernando, before I can get to Sebastian. And Kimi and Fernando have been massively consistent.”

A big question will be how well Pirelli’s tyres work on the Mercedes here, and Hamilton admitted that it’s difficult to know what the hard and medium compounds might offer him this weekend.

“But I’ve got to a place where I am really beginning to extract the most from the car,” he said, “and I feel that I’m going to continue on that road.”

Vettel was cautious about regarding Hamilton and Mercedes as the biggest potential threat to his fourth world championship title, commenting: “I think he’s one of them. Obviously, we had a good first half of the season. We can be very happy with that. We just need to go step by step, race by race and then not get distracted by too many things happening outside of the team. I think Mercedes have been very competitive, not just Lewis, also Nico [Rosberg] who has won two races already this year. We know that they are very quick in qualifying. In Hungary they had the ability, let’s say, to show their speed in the race as well but really since Monaco, in a way, they’ve been competitive in the races. Nico won the race at Silverstone. Lewis was in the lead when he had the tyre failure. Surely, the last couple of races they were most competitive but then I think Lotus has always been there scoring points with Kimi. Romain [new father, Grosjean] is fighting his way back. Ferrari, I think, has a little bit of a low at the moment but still they’ve got good points so I think all of these teams and the drivers, you still have to keep them in mind. But for us it’s not that important to pick one particular driver or person or team. First of all we have to get our own stuff sorted, and then we will see what happens.”

David Tremayne

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