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Exclusive Eric Boullier Q&A: Kimi has improved since last year 19 Apr 2013

Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 13 April 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1, Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal, and the Lotus F1 Team celebrate their second position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21,
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 with Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21 makes a pit stop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 and Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 14 March 2013 Eric Boullier (FRA) Lotus F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 22 March 2013 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013

After Kimi Raikkonen steered Lotus to a surprise third in the drivers' standings in 2012, many expected them to be championship challengers in 2013. So far they've lived up to expectations - heading into Bahrain, Raikkonen sits second in the points and, as team principal Eric Boullier explains, there's no reason he shouldn't stay in the fight all season...

Q: Eric, Kimi proved again today that he is worth every penny. So how are you going to keep him in the future if, as has been rumoured, he's now on Red Bull's radar?
Eric Boullier:
It is not the question of how I am going to keep him - it is a question of does he want to stay? This is really the question. I am sure he is on the radar of a number of teams. One thing is clear: Kimi is not back in Formula One because he needs money - he is here because he wants to win races. Moreover he wants to win races in the conditions he likes. Maybe Mr Mateschitz is dreaming of getting him on board - and maybe he will get him on board - but in the end it is Kimi who will decide what he wants to do. At Lotus he’s got a team around him, he’s got what he likes in F1 - and he’s got a car that is capable of winning. So why should he want to race against Vettel at Red Bull Racing?

Q: What would happen if Kimi went to race with Sebastian in one team? How would you picture that going?
EB:
I think that one of them would not be happy.

Q: Any guess who that would be?
EB:
Well, from what I understand from Red Bull Racing, maybe Kimi.

Q: There have been rumours that Mark Webber could make a switch somewhere else midseason. Could you imagine a driver swap?
EB:
No, that is not a plan. My whole focus is to give the drivers everything - particularly Kimi - to make sure that we can fight for the world championship. Kimi has proven in the past that he can pull it off - he finished third in the standings last year, despite a two-year absence - and he is in fantastic shape this season. He is a fantastic racer, a great driver and an excellent finisher.

Q: There were headlines in the media that you would have fired Sebastian Vettel for not following team orders. But with Kimi you have somebody who is pretty much doing his own thing - even in the car. How does that come together?
EB:
Don’t believe everything that you read! (laughs) Let’s get this straight: Kimi is following team orders to the point... It's a pretty tricky question to answer and in fact I was teasing a bit with my Vettel notion… Let me have another attempt: it was a deliberate move from Sebastian in Malaysia. In terms of Kimi, yes, he’s got his own personality, but there is never a lack of respect. He may sometimes do what he wants, but never with a lack of respect for the team.

Q: How do you explain Kimi’s 49 points to Romain Grosjean’s 11? Is that gap in the range you expected?
EB:
Most of it comes from the fact that Kimi’s speed has improved even further from last year - and right from the beginning of the season - and Romain is struggling a bit with the 2013 tyres, to take the best out of them in one lap and on the long runs.

Q: Lots of teams have complained about Pirelli's 2013 tyres, but Lotus have been less vocal. Have Lotus uncovered the mystery of how to use them?
EB:
There is no mystery. The only difference with the complaining teams - and there is mainly only one - is that they haven’t considered the tyres as a part of the performance package for the weekend. Full stop.

Q: So what is the difference in concept between the Lotus and let's say the Red Bull and the Mercedes?
EB:
You can design a car that is completely mechanical and no aerodynamics, or you can build a car up to a point without such a mechanical focus and more emphasis on aerodynamics. We are in the middle, whereas Red Bull is really extreme on the aero side.

Q: In the past Lotus have been quite extreme design-wise. Have you learned from that experience and decided to go more conservative?
EB:
We tried to be innovative in 2011, but that is a far cry from being extreme.

Q: Pirelli have suggested making marginal changes from Barcelona onwards. If the conditions continue more or less as they are now, does that automatically make Kimi a contender for the title?
EB:
I don’t know. It is too early. I think to really understand what is going on we have to wait until the European campaign. Right now we know that we are competitive - we are fast enough for podium finishes and even for the win - but more, I dare not predict. Of course the ambition is there. (laughs)

Q: How will your ambitions to fight for the title be affected by the need to concentrate on the development of the 2014 car? Other teams with more resources might then be able to turn the tide?
EB:
That is the poker game. You have to watch who is giving up on their 2013 car. You have to bluff. (laughs) The more pressure we can put on now at the beginning of the season, the more we will put pressure on the big teams like Ferrari and Mercedes. Because they are both engine and chassis manufacturers, they have to take a decision as to when to switch to the 2014 car. As I just said, it’s a game.

Q: When will we see a drop in performance due to the development of the 2014 car?
EB:
I don’t think that you will see it. In the end everybody will switch to 2014, so everybody will drop and so very likely the performance level will stay the same.

Q: When do you expect that switch?
EB:
I think at the end of summer.

Q: Your desire to put pressure on your immediate competitors - where will it bring you? Kimi was a surprising third in the championship last year, do you expect him to do better this year?
EB:
I think so. After three races with these good results I think he can go on like that. That's me saying that I think he will do better in the ranking than last year.

Q: Have you found out what motivates Kimi?
EB:
Yes.

Q: Can you share that secret?
EB:
A car that allows him to fight for wins. Plain and simple as that.

Q: But his contract runs out at the end of the season…
EB:
Yes, it does.

Q: When will you start to negotiate with him?
EB:
We've started to discuss. He fits perfectly into the team and I am happy to keep him as long as he wants. I have to correct myself: as long as he fits in like he is doing now.

Q: But if he leaves you are in trouble. There is no such thing as a second Kimi Raikkonen around…
EB:
No, no troubles. Because if he wants to leave there is no point in holding him back. Remember: Formula One personnel are very difficult to handle, because they are passionate. Formula One drivers are even more complicated to handle - and Kimi is on the top of this. I'm not saying that he is difficult, don’t get me wrong, but if he wants to go there would be no point making him stay, as his mind would be somewhere else. What we can do is to give him the right environment so that he wants to stay. Full stop.

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