There’s a lot more to this Kimi Vs Lotus debacle than meets the eye. Actually, let me rephrase that. There’s a lot less to this Kimi Vs Lotus debacle than meets the eye.
OK, so here are the facts.
Kimi hasn’t been paid. Kimi is off to Ferrari. Kimi’s patience was tested by a frantic radio message from the team in India, made out of exasperation at him not heeding team orders to let his team-mate through, who was faster at that point in the race but critical on engine. Kimi had serious words with the team after the race. Kimi failed to turn up in the Abu Dhabi paddock today.
All would seem to be deeply unwell with the relationship, and there is no doubt that there are serious strains between the Finn and the team which brought him back to F1 just under two years ago. The relationship may be at breaking point. Kimi may have been on the verge of deciding not to race in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Kimi may yet fail to see out the season with Lotus.
But Kimi was not in the paddock today because he had never had any intention of being. And this decision was taken long before he was told to get out of the effing way.
On Sunday morning in India a few colleagues and I had a coffee and a croissant at Lotus hospitality and were chewing the fat with someone at the team whose job it is to know where the drivers are and what they are doing. We were talking about travel plans to the next race and when we would all be getting to the UAE. Romain was getting there early and would be doing a bit of PR work in the week. And Kimi? Kimi was going back home to Switzerland. He would be flying to Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
“On Thursday?” we asked, “Isn’t that a bit late… for media and stuff?”
“Well yes, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d missed it, would it?”
This was Sunday morning. In India.
So why was Lotus making media notifications that included interview slots for the Finn when he would either be at the airport or in the sky? Why was no notification given to the media that these interviews were not going to take place?
Perhaps this team member had got things wrong. But I doubt that as he had no reason to tell us false travel plans, and would have been well within the loop of who was going to be where and when.
Perhaps Kimi changed his travel plans late in the day to arrive in time for media sessions but then thought better of it and switched them back again. But that seems like an awful lot of hassle for a man famous for not being a massive fan of hassle.
Davide Valsecchi, the man Lotus would rely upon to stand in for Raikkonen if he fails to race this weekend, entered the paddock precisely at 15:00 today. That is precisely the time when Raikkonen was due to be in media interviews. Every other driver, be they reserve pilot or world champion, had long since been in the paddock. So why the precise timing of 15:00?
To me this entire thing smacks of the creative PR for which Lotus has marked itself out. It smells like a team trying to keep a headline going, trying to keep the wheels on a story that keeps them top of the twitter trending tree.
Social media is a critical tool for Lotus. Some are fans of the way they go about it. Others not. Sources tell me that after the Indian Grand Prix and the manner in which the team spoke to Raikkonen, the team’s social media pages took a hammering both from comments and depleting numbers of followers or fans. The team’s hasty apology to Raikkonen midweek seemed to have been an attempt not to curry favour with their driver, but simply to stem the flow of social media fans away from their pages.
Pages which, if we are honest, will heamorrhage fans when Kimi moves to Ferrari anyway, and the Finn’s ardent supporters go with him.
What was it Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to come from the mouth of Sherlock Holmes? “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Something like that, I seem to recall.
While there is no impossibility in the factors around Kimi’s travel plans having changed since Sunday, I for one do not buy the explanation. Because as I understand it this is the way it was always supposed to be.
As such, the only truth I can garner from anything today is that while Kimi and Lotus’ relationship is strained, and while there is a chance he won’t see out the season, today has got absolutely nothing to do with it.
He was never supposed to be here. The fact that he isn’t, simply isn’t a story.