The relationship between Kimi Räikkönen and the Lotus F1 team appears to be at breaking point after the Finn suggested he would not race in the final two Grands Prix of the season unless the team fixed its financial problems and pays him his salary and bonuses for the year.
The Finn told the media that he has “not been paid a Euro” all season, and that he came close to skipping this weekend’s Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi in disgust.
It was shades of Ayrton Senna’s on-again, off-again saga with McLaren in 1993 yesterday, with Räikkönen skipping Thursday’s media commitments as he was not in the country, with team management frantically trying to convince him to drive this weekend.
Ultimately, the backside kissing proved good enough, and the 2007 World Champion arrived at the Yas Marina Circuit just hours before the opening practice session got underway, going fourth-fastest in the twilight practice session, four-tenths of a second slower than the pace-setting Sebastian Vettel.
Tensions were stretched during last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, where Räikkönen and chief operations engineer Alan Permane had a heated exchange in the closing laps of the race as the team sought for him to cede third place to teammate Romain Grosjean.
Speaking to reporters after Friday’s practice session, Räikkönen confirmed that he had come very close not to rocking up for this weekend’s Grand Prix and the remaining races in the United States and Brazil.
The 34-year-old confirmed that his appearance this weekend was no guarantee that he would race in the following two races.
“I enjoy racing but a big part of it is business. Sometimes when that is not dealt with like it should be then we end up in an unfortunate situation,” he added.
“You have to put the line somewhere, and if it goes over that … it is not really my fault any more.”
It’s believed that Räikkönen’s Lotus salary is €8 million (AU$11.4 million), with an additional bonus of €50,000 per point he scores. That means Lotus owes him over €17M so far.
He was also not paid in 2012 until the end of the season, and the team’s ongoing financial issues were the definitive reason for him choosing to join Ferrari next year.
Räikkönen has probably driven far better than Lotus had perhaps forecast, and the team’s well-documented cashflow problems have forced the team to prioritise paying its day-to-day team members ahead of its star driver, whose salary is no doubt greater than every other junior and senior team figure combined.
Back in June it was confirmed that the team’s parent company, Genii Capital, had sold a 35% stake to Infinity Racing Partners Ltd, a UK-registered consortium comprised of investors from Abu Dhabi and Brunei, led by American hedge fund manager, Mansoor Ijaz.
The deal with Infinity – which was later renamed Quantum Motorsports Limited to avoid confusion with Red Bull Racing partner Infiniti) – was to help pay back the debts that Genii Capital had accrued since it took over the team from Renault in 2009, while the new part-owner was understood to have options to acquire majority ownership in the longer term.
Four months later and the deal still hasn’t been closed, which has triggered Räikkönen’s latest outburst over his continued non-payment, and which could drastically impact the team’s plans and driver line-up for 2014.
“We are talking to bring the team to the next step in terms of finances and resources. We nearly have it. Depending on the scenario, it may change the driver lineup,” Lotus F1 team principal Eric Boullier confirmed.
While Räikkönen’s teammate Grosjean is secured at the team – courtesy of the support of Renault and Total – the identity of his teammate is now an even-money bet between Nico Hülkenberg and Pastor Maldonado, the latter of whom is looking for a new home for his millions of dollars worth of PDVSA sponsorship as he tries to wriggle out of his seat at Williams.
If the Quantum cash arrives, the seat will deservedly go to the much quicker Hülkenberg, but if it doesn’t, the team will be forced to take on the more erratic Maldonado in order to keep the outfit going.