Lotus F1's decision to pair returning world champion Kimi Raikkonen with second-chance saloon dweller Romain Grosjean for 2012 appears to be paying off, with podium finishes in both Bahrain and Barcelona, and team boss Eric Boullier says he has a strategy to keep his stars happy for the rest of the year.
The pairing have already racked up 84 points from five races – compared to 46 from Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov at the same stage in 2011 – with Raikkonen claiming second and third places in rounds four and five, and Grosjean chipping in with the final podium place in Sakhir, allowing Boullier a sense of satisfaction after his winter decisions were called into question.
been headaches,” the Frenchman admitted to the official F1 website, “We had a very lengthy discussion internally, which involved the technical side of the team, as well as the commercial side and, of course, our shareholders to make the right decision. After that, we decided to take a gamble… as there were very few hints about how [the line-up] would develop.”
With Grosjean out-performing Raikkonen in qualifying over the opening couple of rounds, it was clear that this was not going to be a one-man show as had tended to be the case with Enstone-based teams in the past – think Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica – but Boullier is happy to be fighting for points with both cars in 2012.
“Historically, this team has always pushed for one driver - a definite leader - but that has definitely changed,” he admitted, “It's a thing of the past.
“I want two fast drivers because that is the way you get ahead in the constructors' championship. So both drivers have the same status. Obviously Kimi, with his experience, his character and personality, tends to have a certain degree of leadership but, in fact, it is not leadership but probably more attention.
“On the other hand, Romain is digging a little place for himself nicely and is getting a lot of respect every weekend from the team. You must not forget that Kimi has done something in the range of 160 grands prix and Romain has just finished his twelfth grand prix [in Barcelona].
“They are very different and I don't believe they will ever go on holiday together, but they don't need to be friends. That's only my opinion. What I expect them to do is to respect each other and never forget that they are working for the team. Both know that we will never favour anyone - depending on the individual strategy each of them is on. It is up to them to qualify well and have a good race result. We just give them the tools to deliver on equal terms.”
Part of the reticence believed to have been behind the signing of Raikkonen is the Finn's notorious opposition to extra-curricular activities involved in being an F1 driver, but Boullier surprisingly revealed that the team was happy to bow to its star's whims in order to keep him up for the fight.