Boullier to speak with Raikkonen and Grosjean over clash
28 October 2013
The team boss of Lotus F1, Eric Boullier, has some personnel issues to sort out this week before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix gets underway, after his drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean clashed and nearly took each other out four laps from the end of the Indian Grand Prix while scrapping over third place.
Grosjean was on slightly newer tyres and had superior pace when he came up on the back of Raikkonen's car on lap 56 of Sunday's race. The Finn was running in third place but his tyres were clearly degrading rapidly, and Grosjean wanted to get past before he was caught and challenged by the Ferrari of Felipe Massa.
Raikkonen was having none of it, however, and defended with all his considerable skills which ended up with him running Grosjean clear off the track at turn 4, although actual contact between the two cars was averted. A crew member on the Lotus pit wall made it plain that the team expected Raikkonen to make way with an unequivocal "Kimi, get out of the f***ing way" heard on the radio communications, to which an equally angry Raikkonen responded: "Don't f***ing shout at me."
In the end the tyres had the last word, forcing Raikkonen to pit again two laps from the end which meant that he came home in seventh place, afterwards storming off without talking to the media. Instead, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier braved the reporters and insisted that the radio comms from the pit wall had not been a case of team orders at work.
"They are free to race each other," he said. "If his [Kimi's] tyres hadn't dropped off we would say let them race, which is normal.
"But it is true that we were maybe expecting a little bit of an easier manoeuvre, let's say," he added. "You're never happy when you see both cars fighting and one car going off, so you just make sure they fight in the team's interest.
"It's true that we are working for these guys to deliver, but there is a team behind, so you also need to think about that," Boullier pointed out, adding that he would have words with both drivers about what happened. "I'm going to speak to both of them again in Abu Dhabi."
But while that might seem as though Boullier is laying the blame on both drivers equally, other comments suggested that it would be Raikkonen who would face the sharpest dressing down.
"When the tyres are dropping off and you are two seconds off the pace, if it's your team-mate you don't have to make a drama with this and you have to bring the cars as high in the ranking for yourself and for the team," he said. "But don't stop the other guy bringing points home for the team."
However Boullier can't say he didn't know what he was getting when he hired Raikkonen - a born racer who will stop at nothing and doesn't care one jot for team orders or office politics if it gets in the way of his racing. And Boullier admitted he understood that and admired it as one of the reasons he's lured the former world champion back from his sabbatical from F1 to join the team at the start of 2012.
"Kimi is a competitor so obviously he is racing everybody and I can understand that," he said. "He is racing everybody and he is racing against his team-mate. It's true that when you are racing in the same conditions, you are racing, and I'm fine with that."
Raikkonen's attitude has certainly been a big factor in turning around the team's fortunes to the point where Lotus is still in with a chance of taking up the runners-up position in the constructors' championship, while Raikkonen himself is the closest challenger to Fernando Alonso for second place in the drivers' standings.
But what events at the end of the Indian GP suggest is that now Raikkonen is counting the hours to his release from Enstone and his flight to Maranello for 2014, where he will ironically be Alonso's new team mate at Ferrari. That's making him increasingly a rogue element on the grid - although that might still be no bad thing for Lotus, at least providing he and Grosjean can stay away from each other on the track for three more races.