Motor racing-Lotus happy for Raikkonen to take risks

LONDON Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:23pm GMT

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LONDON Dec 12 (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus team have ruled out reining in the 2007 Formula One world champion after the Finn crashed and hurt his wrist while competing in a snowmobile race at the weekend.

Memories of Robert Kubica's near-fatal rally accident last February are still raw at the former Renault outfit, with the Pole yet to get back in the cockpit after missing the entire 2011 season.

However Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar, whose Malaysian-owned sportscar company are now the renamed team's title sponsors, made clear on Monday that racing drivers could never be wrapped in cotton wool.

"It is part of our job to do things that are risky, we do it commercially and corporately, Kimi does it in his own life," he told reporters at a lunch.

"I like these characters. It's unfortunate if he hurts himself but it's part of life.

"Kimi is Kimi and it will be difficult to change the way he lives," added Bahar.

"It's not something we are focused on from a group perspective, saying: 'This is Kimi now you have to do everything to protect him from going out of his own house'. It doesn't work."

Lotus said at the weekend that Raikkonen, a champion with Ferrari and now making his F1 comeback after two seasons in rallying, had a sore wrist after the spill in Austria but it was "nothing to worry about".

STATEMENT OF INTENT

Kubica would have been the team leader on the track this year but may never drive for them again. In any case, his role has now transferred to Raikkonen whose services have not come cheap.

The team have signed France's Romain Grosjean as their second driver, dropping Russian Vitaly Petrov in a move that spoke volumes for their ambitions over the next three years.

Petrov was a competent driver, good enough to get on the podium in Australia this year, but the funding he brought with him was also important.

"The decision we took was that we need to bring the team to the next level," said Bahar, who was embroiled for much of the year with rivals Team Lotus over the use of the iconic brand in Formula One.

That dispute has now been resolved, with Malaysian-owned Team Lotus renamed Caterham.

"Now we have one issue solved, we have a clear identity and a clear brand.

"Now it's the next step, to restructure the team, to bring in new talent, technical talent, an experienced driver, maybe not to go after 'pay drivers' any more, not to look to the highest bidder any more," said Bahar. "It's really to get more and more competitive."

Petrov's departure will have financial consequences but Bahar hailed it as a bold move, just as Raikkonen's arrival was a gamble.

"It's a brave decision to say: 'We're not after the money, we try to go the hard way...we try to succeed through performance, with the best people coming in, best driver coming in, and make the team better'," he said.

"We have to fight even harder to get the money, even harder to race and to get sponsorships, but we believe we have a nice offer especially now with the two brands combined."

Bahar said Raikkonen, 32, had matured a lot and knew what he was letting himself in for.

"It's a different time and he has to deliver, and I think he realises that," he said. "If we get the car right then the sky is the limit for us." (Editing by Clare Fallon)

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