Boullier sets sights on the championship
19 March 2013
Eric Boullier was celebrating Lotus F1's success in the first race of the 2013 season in Australia, and said that victory in Melbourne not only proved that the team deserved a seat at the sport's top table but that it was also in with a serious shot at the driver and constructor titles.
"At least I can say Lotus F1 is a top team now, said the team principal. "We clearly stated we want to be a top team, and starting the season like this it means we will fight with everything for the championship!"
Raikkonen's comfortable victory in the opening race of the year puts the Finn at the top of the world championship standings, with Lotus second behind Ferrari in the constructors points.
But Boullier admitted that at the start of the race he was simply hoping for a podium finish, fully expecting that Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber would run away and hide at the front. "We were scared a little bit, yes," he said of that prospect.
"After Kimi's start I was secretly hoping we could catch a podium," Boullier said, after Raikkonen was able to leap up from seventh on the grid to fifth place before the first corner. Raikkonen then picked up another place by making short work of Lewis Hamilton and proceeded to close up on the front runners where he bided his time to see what his rivals were doing about pit strategies.
"Definitely in the second stint when we saw the other team's pitting for a second time and being on a three-stop strategy - then we started to say 'we can do it,'" said Boullier. "Two-stop was always the plan."
With Vettel unable to produce the sort of pace in race trim that he'd enjoyed in qualifying, and the two Ferraris also opting for three-stop strategies, Raikkonen finally overtook Force India's Adrian Sutil on lap 42. Any fears in Boullier's mind that Fernando Alonso might be able to mount a late-race charge to hunt down the Finn at the front were allayed when Raikkonen put his foot down and set the fastest laptime of the race on the ante-penultimate lap, before going on to finish a comfortable 12.4s ahead at the line.
"If every year we are putting ourselves in a situation where we can compete for wins this is where we wanted to be, said a delighted Boullier. "Then from that we can expect and build up from the nice momentum to maybe one day be champion again."
A long way to go, then. But the winning feeling in the team that started with Raikkonen's slightly fortunate victory in last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was infectious and had seemingly permeated the team over the offseason, giving everyone involved a spring in their step coming into the 2013 season.
Even the famously deadpan Kimi Raikkonen was looking energised by the upturn in Lotus' fortunes, insisted Boullier.
"He's smiling more; all weekend!" said Boullier. "He's definitely starting the season like he finished the season last year so we can expect him to be strong."
But don't worry, the Finn isn't going to mellow too much anytime soon - which should delight fans who cheered as he famously told his race engineer, "Just leave me alone, I know what I'm doing!" during the Abu Dhabi GP last November, adding: "Yes, yes, yes, I'm doing that all the time. You don't have to remind me every 10 seconds!"
Fortunately his victory there had proven his point, although he did buy everyone T-shirts with the quote emblazoned on the front by way of an implied apology for coming over quite so tetchy. He needed have bothered, though: as long as he's in such winning form, the Lotus team wouldn't want to change any thing about him.
"Kimi's Kimi," laughed Boullier. "I don't think there is anybody on earth who can tell Kimi what to do, so I'm not going to start to be honest!"