If he didn't already understand the implications of returning to F1 with the Lotus F1 team, Kimi Raikkonen will have been left in no doubt by team boss Eric Boullier's comments during the opening group test at Jerez.

Even as Raikkonen was pounding around the southern Spanish circuit en route to setting the fastest time of the day, Boullier was explaining that he expected the Finn to do what none of the three drivers employed in 2011 managed, and fill the role left vacant by Robert Kubica's rallying accident almost twelve months ago. Nick Heidfeld, Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna all occupied the cockpit of the black-and-gold Lotus Renault entries in 2011 but, apart from a few promising testing performances and a brace of podium finishes in rounds one and two, the year tailed off badly for the Enstone equipe.

Admitting that Kubica's absence had left a void at the heart of the team, Boullier confirmed that he saw Raikkonen as the ideal driver to pick up the baton dropped by his Polish counterpart.

"Right away - yes!" Boullier told the official F1 website, "Because, in terms of team morale and motivation - and even team guidance - he is there, because he is a guy that knows what he wants. I promise you he is committed and, as I just said, he knows what he wants."

Raikkonen, ironically, was among the first batch of names mentioned as a possible replacement for the injured Kubica - who remains far from able to pilot an F1 car and has been dropped by the Lotus operation ahead of 2012 - but, despite rumours of talks between himself and Boullier, the marriage never happened. Indeed, there were reports of cross words flying back and forth between the pair via the media, making any future alliance an unlikely one.

Determined to return to F1 for 2012, Raikkonen was reportedly close to landing a Williams seat but, just days after those talks broke down, he was unveiled as Boullier's first signing for the new season.

"The first talks started just after Abu Dhabi and we closed the deal in less than ten days - it all went very quickly!" the Frenchman revealed, "Just before that, we were evaluating internally which driver we wanted to recruit and we only wanted to share those discussions within the team. Then we contacted Kimi - and it was done! Obviously, his negotiations with Williams were going nowhere, but he wanted to be back in F1, so it was the right time and the right situation. Clearly, money was not the point. He liked the package that we offered and that was it."

Despite the apparently happy camp, there is pressure on both sides to perform, Raikkonen to show that he is still worthy of consideration as a potential champion, and Boullier to ensure that the Lotus name does not suffer on its return to the top flight. Despite that, the Frenchman continues to describe the pair as a 'perfect match'.

"Do you know any world championship contender - either team or driver - that was not explosive?" he asked, "Sure, for a team named Lotus, it is a benefit having a big name. It's a perfect match because we were looking for somebody with his background, experience, charisma and speed, but he also was looking for a team to join to make a good return into F1.

"I am not so sure that this played any role in his reasoning, but then, of course, it is better to drive for an iconic name than a 'no-name'. I think that the key motivation for him was the feedback that he got from the team. We are not a marketing machine - we are a race team! I am not blaming anybody in the pit lane, but we are more a racing family than a machine. And he started to feel very comfortable with our crew after he realised that we are racing people.

"And the match is working. Obviously, we all don't know right now how it will develop but, from what we have experienced over the last weeks, we can be positive. Nothing can be worse than what we have experienced in the past. Let's take it easy."

Last season clearly took its toll on Boullier, and he is determined to move on from the combination of Kubica's accident, drivers that could not step up to fill the Pole's shoes and a radical car that did not work out as planned.

"You never know how people will develop," he reflected, "Sometimes you believe it will be a perfect fit and it is not, and sometimes the unexpected comes your way and it becomes the missing link which in turn produces a sharp step forward. In the end, it all boils down to the human combinations. The fit between you and other people. And then comes the performance of the car, the team's performance and everything else that makes a F1 team tick.

"Robert's accident was completely unexpected and, from there, we had to react. I have to say I believe that we were still doing well under those circumstances. But strategy-wise, I am happy that Genii has kept their faith in the team and they are going with us down another path, as I now believe that this is the path that we always wanted to take."

With Raikkonen and returnee Romain Grosjean on board for 2012, there are again high hopes that Lotus can take the steps forward to challenge the likes of Mercedes for a top four championship spot. While that would have been the aim last year, the team ended up coming under pressure from Force India for fifth place, and Boullier is as keen not to see that scenario repeated.

"There are too many 'ifs' and 'maybes'," he noted, "Yes, they were almost catching us at the end, [but] we know why and have learnt from that, so let the past be the past. Of course, we are focusing on breaking into the top four now - like we should have done last year if it had been the year that we had planned. Sure the forward exhausts were brave - possibly too brave - but that was all in 2011."

And is Raikkonen the one to propel Lotus into the leading quartet? Boullier is convinced that, this time, he has the right man.

"He will be a potential race winner if we give him an adequate car," he claimed, "Obviously, this is the package that he needs to have. My guess is that at the beginning of the European 'season' he will be ready.

"I know already that he is not struggling. I have seen how he has been driving. Without even looking at the times, you can see from the line that he was cruising around the track on and how he uses the car. I am sure that he will need some time to find the last tweaks to be 100 per cent sure, but believe me, he is there! Kimi is very confident and he is very happy with the car, its balance and handling. We are heading into a long test programme that hopefully will bring some satisfaction in Melbourne for all of us. The chemistry is already working well."


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