After a difficult weekend in Spa, with performance falling short of expectations and Kimi Raikkonen's championship challenge coming undone along with his unbroken run of race finishes, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier is looking for positives ahead of next weekend's Italian Grand Prix
Raikkonen's brake-induced DNF was his first in 39 races and not only halted his record-breaking run of 27 point-scoring results, but also saw the Finn drop from second to fourth in the overall standings. Now 64 points behind Sebastian Vettel, who took full advantage of his rival's woes by racking up a fifth win of the year, Raikkonen will need to bounce back at Monza and hope that the German begins to run into problems.
“[Belgium] was a disappointing weekend, with qualifying not as good as we had expected and then a difficult first lap in the race from which we weren't able to recover,” Boullier reflected, “Romain [Grosjean] drove strongly with the performance he had at his disposal and Kimi was working his way past other drivers before he experienced his brake failure but, ultimately, it was a race where we should have performed better.
“We need to get Kimi back on the podium - and consistently. His DNF in Spa was the first he has had with Lotus and we certainly don't want to see any more this season. He's been on the podium six times so far this year and there are eight races remaining. We all know that the gap to Sebastian is not getting any smaller, but behind him the battle is quite tight, as we've seen over the last few races.”
Boullier was quick to play down suggestions that his team may be on the wane, with its Belgian performance not matching those from either Germany or Hungary, where Raikkonen twice finished second. With a long wheelbase version of the E21 scheduled to debut at Monza, the Frenchman is expecting both the Finn and team-mate Grosjean to be a factor.
“I don't think [the Belgian performance is worrying], as Spa is a very specific track and none of the remaining circuits have the same characteristics,” he pointed out, “For this season, it is not a concern, but certainly for next year's car we need to understand more why we have struggled at Spa relative to our pace elsewhere as we experienced something similar last season too.
“Looking to the next eight races, we have quite a few interesting developments still in the pipeline and we're focused on achieving the best results we can. Monza is a very different circuit from Spa and we have an equally different aerodynamic package for the car. The weather is usually better in Italy than we saw in Belgium this year so that could help us. We certainly expect better performance and results than we saw last time out.”
Boullier also confirmed that the team had determined the cause of Raikkonen's Spa DNF, tracing it to a freak occurrence.
“We've traced what we believe was the cause of the brake issue to a cooling duct which was blocked by a helmet visor tear-off,” he concluded, “It's pretty normal to experience this and, once the brake disc was too hot, it could not cool sufficiently. This meant that Kimi's brakes continued to run hot, and we all saw that with the smoke. They were still slowing the car sufficiently – as we could see by his overtaking moves for position – until there was complete failure of the component.
“With anything like this, you need a component in a precise temperature window to perform correctly. Do you run with more cooling to compensate for any potential blockages? No, because you won't get optimum performance from the brakes as they won't be in their correct temperature window.
“Of course, we're studying all the data and working on ways to avoid a similar situation from happening in the future. It was unfortunate for Kimi to experience his retirement, but this is sometimes part of motor racing and we must now switch our focus to Monza.”