Kimi Räikkönen will miss the final two Grands Prix of the season – not because of his long-running pay dispute with Lotus, it seems, but because he will undergo back surgery to treat a recurrent back complaint that has dogged him for much of his career.
The Finn has been at the centre of a long-running pay dispute with Lotus, which was finally resolved during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend amid news that a buyout by new investors had finally been sorted.
Had this have gone through, Räikkönen would have contested the remaining Grands Prix in the United States and Brazil, and possibly be paid some of the wages he is owed, which are estimated to be in the region of €17 million.
However, in a fresh twist, Räikkönen will be missing in action after all. The former World Champion struggled with back pain during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, which proved so severe that he was only able to participate with the help of cortisone injections.
The injury flared up again during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend – where he again struggled with sleep and had to use more painkillers – to the point that an early surgical intervention is the only sensible choice.
The timing of the operation – which has an estimated four-week recovery period – will see him return to full fitness ahead of his pre-season testing commitments with Ferrari, with whom he visited (earlier this week) to undergo a seat fitting ahead of his return to the team next year.
The confirmation by his manager, Steve Robertson, has been given to AUTOSPORT, following the news being broken in the Finn’s native Turun Sanomat newspaper.
It’s not the end of a two-year relationship Lotus would have wanted with Kimi, after a successful return to F1 which saw him take two wins during his stint with the team.
Lotus now have a few days to announce his replacement. An obvious and smart move would be to promote their reserve driver and 2012 GP2 Series Champion, Davide Valsecchi.
Valsecchi has had outings in the E21 during pre-season testing and in the ‘Young Drivers’ test at Silverstone. He would also be the first Italian to compete in a Grand Prix since Jarno Trulli’s last Grand Prix in 2011.
However, they could just as easily opt for another available driver, possibly with sizeable funds behind him if Kimi’s absence affects Lotus’ deal with Quantum Motorsports.