Eric Boullier insists Red Bull target Kimi Raikkonen can already see Lotus strength
Enstone team to hold further talks as they bid to hold on to Kimi
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 09/07/13 1:38pm
Lotus boss Eric Boullier is adamant that his team are capable of 'matching' Red Bull and therefore retaining star driver Kimi Raikkonen beyond the end of the season.
With the World Champions having publicly confirmed that Raikkonen, out of contract at Lotus at the end of 2013, is on a three-man shortlist to replace the retiring Mark Webber for next season, Lotus have made no secret of their desire to ward off any advances for the 2007 World Champion.
Speaking in a wide-reaching interview with the official F1 website, Boullier confirmed that Lotus's management and Raikkonen have "spent some time taking already...and we will sit down again" over 2014 - although the Frenchman is also fully aware that Red Bull are likely to "put together a very nice proposal for him" in a bid to lure him to Milton Keynes.
Vettel would welcome Kimi partnership
Paddock rumour has suggested that Raikkonen is keen to see evidence that his current team can take the next step in their development and sustain a serious season-long title challenge. However, his team boss insists that, even with lesser resources than Red Bull, Lotus are already showing they can compete.
"I think he [Raikkonen] likes the team and the people in the team. He is comfortable with them," Boullier said.
"Sometimes you have a good car at the start of the season, but the question is will you be able to keep up that level - and Kimi can see that we can do it. With much less resources than Red Bull we still can develop the car and compete at the same level. This weekend we had conditions that are 'normal', not tricky ones, not cold and rainy, and you saw that our car was competitive.
"If you are competitive at mid-season then in all probability we will keep the development curve on the up. So our system is working and if he is comfortable and earns enough for his 'afterlife' then why should he go? In the end it is up to him to tell us what he would like us to do and we will look to do it. He knows that we are flexible and that we listen to our drivers."
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The issue of money was something in late 2009 that was thought to have scuppered a McLaren return for Raikkonen despite the Finn's management holding talks with his former employers following his departure form Ferrari.
Asked in his interview if, given at 34 Raikkonen will be the oldest driver on the grid next season, the Finn could be looking for a 'golden handshake' with his next contract, Boullier replied: "Of course this is a consideration. Through life you go through different stages and in the back of Kimi's mind there must be the consideration that the next contract is his last one. So yes, there might at the end be some financial considerations that we need to take into account."
But asked if Lotus would enter into a bidding war with Red Bull, Boullier insisted: "We will offer what we believe is the best for Kimi and for us."
The Lotus Team Principal also played down the suggestion that the possibility of reuniting with F1's pre-eminent deisgn genius Adrian Newey at Red Bull could tempt Raikkonen to make the switch.
"All that matters for Kimi is to win in a positive environment - nothing else," Boullier insisted. "There are always differences from one team to the other, but I think we can easily match Red Bull Racing. Kimi is not in for the next ten years, but for the few years he is planning to stay he wants to enjoy it, win races and if possible the championship. That's it."
The battle for Kimi
Should Raikkonen ultimately depart for Red Bull then Lotus would clearly be the prime opening for drivers looking to move up to the grid in 2014, with names such as Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta already linked to the team in recent weeks.
The inconsistent Romain Grosjean's future beyond the end of the season is far from certain either and although Boullier hinted that he certainly wouldn't want to lose both drivers over the winter - "I would prefer continuity" - admitted that a number of drivers had already approached them over a 2014 seat.
"I always have a plan B and we are in a favourable position in that after some big names we are the most desired team," Boullier said.
"A lot of drivers are talking to us, so should the white sheet situation occur I have a plan B but I will not share that now!"