Kimi Raikkonen never had doubts Lotus would bounce back from its troubled 2011 campaign – as he insists the team has what it takes to gun for the title.
Ahead of what is expected to be a full-on victory bid for Raikkonen and Lotus at the Belgian Grand Prix, the former champion says his Enstone outfit has strengths that can help it overcome bigger budget rivals like McLaren and Ferrari.
Speaking exclusively to AUTOSPORT about why he was so keen to sign for Lotus after its difficult time last year, Raikkonen said: “There have been years when I’ve been in top teams and we’ve had a pretty bad year, and then the next year has been completely different.
“It’s still one of the biggest teams; they’re based in the same place, they have more or less all the tools to make the fastest car and the best car.
“It’s not maybe on the level of McLaren or Ferrari or Mercedes as for how many people we have, but they have the knowledge and they have the will to make a good car and push hard.”
Raikkonen believes the error in pursuing the front-exhaust solution in 2011 that derailed its campaign actually disguised how good Lotus was – and also helped deliver lessons that have helped its performance this year.
“Once they made the decision to have a completely different car to the others, there was no way they could have come back from that decision. So they looked worse than they actually were because the decision was made and unfortunately it wasn’t right.
“But I think they learned a lot from that, so I wasn’t really worried about how they were doing.
“You always take a gamble to come back and sometimes you choose the right team, sometimes not, that’s life. I’ve been very happy with how things have gone and the people are great and I enjoy it.”
Raikkonen also thinks it is too early to start considering his plans for next year – either for himself or the team.
The Finn is expected to sign a fresh deal with Lotus, despite speculation linking him with Ferrari, after an encouraging return to F1 with the Enstone-based team this year.
But although Lotus has grown in strength all season – and should be able to carry that momentum in to 2013 – Raikkonen says he is keeping grounded about future ambitions.
“We have to look at this year first, and I want to do as well as we can at every race,” he said.
“You can do well in one year, but we’ve seen even in the biggest teams that they can have a hard time the next year. You’d think we should only get better and better but you never know.
“It’s not easy to make a fast car and sometimes the small details can either go your way or go against you.
“Usually the big teams, if they are not starting well [they can recover] – we’ve seen Ferrari this year, they have improved and they are the best team right now.
“We always wish to continue next year but it’s way too early to say what will happen. We’re putting our efforts into this year and try to improve in the second half.”
* For the full interview with Kimi Raikkonen, where he talks about his F1 return and his title hopes with Lotus, see this week’s AUTOSPORT, available on Thursday.