2012's big stories: Lotus's brave driver gamble
|Monday, December 31st 2012, 17:08 GMT|
Lotus was nothing if not bold in its 2012 driver selection, eschewing any hint of a 'safe pair of hands' approach and signing two men who hadn't raced in Formula 1 since 2009.
On paper, the combination of a former world champion with 157 grand prix starts to his name and a man with five feeder series titles on his CV plus a smattering of F1 experience shouldn't have prompted any frowns.
But this was Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
Raikkonen whose penchant for off-track high-jinks and periods of disinterest in his day job threatened to overshadow his blistering speed, and whose sabbatical from F1 had featured a lot of dabbling in other categories with little to show for it bar some bent rally cars and memorable NASCAR Truck Series radio transmissions.
And Grosjean, who had to return to the junior categories with his tail between his legs after mixing on-track inconsistency with off-track unpopularity when he last tried F1.
It seemed a recipe for excitement and intrigue - and so it proved, as Lotus's returnee duo generated more headlines than almost any other driver pairing in 2012...
Grosjean: Just a 'nutcase'?
It took no time at all for Grosjean to erase memories of his disastrous 2009 part-season and prove that he really did belong in F1. Often the Lotus pacesetter in the first half of the season, he showed the speed of a potential champion as he appeared to complete a successful career rehabilitation.
But along the way, there were still a lot of mistakes - especially on opening laps. At first these went almost unnoticed, but gradually their frequency started causing concern, and when Grosjean triggered the huge Spa start crash, condemnation poured down on him, along with a race ban.
He finished the season a chastened man, overshadowed by Raikkonen, and kept waiting until December for confirmation that he would keep his seat. Yet still his supporters remain convinced that he has all the attributes of a superstar, if he can cut the mistakes.
Raikkonen: As if he'd never been away
When a qualifying mistake left Raikkonen outside the cut in Q1 for his grand prix comeback in Australia, there might have been some doubts about the wisdom of his return.
That was the only time all year those doubts were heard.
His character was as big a hit as his speed. His insistence that if he couldn't be champion, he'd prefer to be fourth in the standings so he didn't have to bother with the FIA prizegiving ceremony... The unforgettable "leave me alone, I know what I'm doing" radio rant on the way to his Abu Dhabi win... getting lost off-track in Brazil... All Kimi moments that the fans lapped up.
And he'll probably be even faster, and even more insouciant, in 2013...