Lotus will bring the very best out of Kimi Raikkonen, reckon team bosses Eric Boullier and Gerard Lopez, who believe the 2007 world champion is a much more dedicated team player than his past reputation suggested.
Raikkonen has impressed Lotus since joining the team for his Formula 1 comeback after two years in rallying, and was quickest on the first day of winter testing at Jerez last week.
Lopez said Lotus had found Raikkonen to be a totally different character to how he was presented during his last F1 stint.
“For most people it’s probably one of the big mysteries, because you hear the hearsay and so forth, but we feel very good with him and he clearly feels at home,” Lopez told AUTOSPORT.
“He smiles a lot when he’s with us! But most importantly that says he feels more like part of the family.”
Lopez added: “I think Kimi has a public image that honestly from what we’ve seen does not translate into how he really is. He’s a very hard worker, very good at providing feedback, and has a good team spirit.
“Once we talked to him, once we understood why he was coming back, we really felt comfortable. If you look at what happened [at the test], nobody can say that he’s not on the pace.”
Boullier reckons the way Lotus works is proving ideal for Raikkonen.
“We tried to handle his personality and make sure that we don’t bother him too much with too many intrusions, and he’s a real racer,” said Boullier.
“This team is full of proper racing people and he has fitted very well because we speak the same language.
“We are flexible, but our system is very racing-orientated, and that suits him very well.”
Lotus has been impressed by the speed at which Kimi Raikkonen has adapted to his new car after just two full days of testing in Jerez.
Raikkonen is returning to the sport this season after two years in rallying and had his first real taste of his new car last week at Jerez. Raikkonen set the fastest time on the first day of the test and trackside operations director Alan Permane said his whole approach had been hugely impressive.
“There’s an awful lot more to Formula One than just putting one lap together and that’s what makes a champion,” he told ESPNF1. “That’s the sort of thing you can see in Kimi and see how good he is; how he uses the car over a long run and how he looks after the tyres. He’s never driven these tyres before and already after a couple of days you can see that he’s understanding them and altering his driving to look after them – he’s got a lot of feel in the car.”
Asked if Raikkonen has the potential to be the leader the team was looking for last year, Permane said: “Being a world champion, we can’t get a lot better than that. It’s a difficult one, the question of a leader and do we need a leader. I think a driver will become a leader if he delivers and we can deliver to him. Then he can tell us what he wants, we give that to him and then he delivers again, so we build up a trust in each other. I think that’s how a driver becomes a leader.
“I think so far everything seems to be working well. Of course there will be ups and downs, we’ve had a golden week far beyond our own expectations. That, of course, can’t carry on. It would be lovely if it could, but there will be ups and downs and that will test us and that’s when you see how strong people’s characters are.”
Permane added that Raikkonen has been very specific about the requests he has made of the team, but has paid them back with “excellent” feedback.
“He’s very easy to work with, very, very easy indeed – no complaints at all,” Permane said. “His feedback is excellent, he spends an awful lot of time with his engineers looking at stuff, going through data and telling us what he wants. From what I can see, he’s happy firstly with the car we’ve given him, but also the other stuff – the bits that he asked for when he came, the type of steering wheel he wanted, the seat, the seat belts, things like that. We’ve also delivered the braking stuff he wanted, he’s got all that. I think he’s a pretty happy guy.”
Read the full interview with Alan Permane here.