JEREZ, Spain (Reuters) - Lotus set Kimi Raikkonen a clear target Sunday of taking the former Renault team to fourth place in the Formula One championship in his comeback season.
Champions Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes all finished above former champions Renault last year but Lotus team co-owner Gerard Lopez said beating one of them was a realistic aim.
“The hopes are to have a strong car, strong drivers, of which one of them is obviously an ex-world champion,” he declared in a factory presentation of the new Renault-powered E20 car on the Lotus website (www.lotusf1.com).
“Then you have to bring the car up to the front of the pack, probably trying to aim for fourth as a reasonable goal for this season.”
Raikkonen has not raced in Formula One since 2009, when he left Ferrari to make way for double champion Fernando Alonso and embark on a new life in rallying.
The Finn, triumphant in 18 grands prix with McLaren and Ferrari and 2007 title winner with the Italian team, is one of an unprecedented six champions together on the starting grid this year.
His team mate is French driver Romain Grosjean, the GP2 champion who started seven races for Renault in 2009 without scoring a point.
“I am happy to be back,” Raikkonen, never the most loquacious soul in the paddock, said when reminded how difficult seven-times champion Michael Schumacher had found coming back with Mercedes.
“It will be something slightly different than it used to be when I was in Formula One with a different team. A little bit different regulations but everybody’s different. Some people have more difficulties in getting used to new stuff.
“It depends a lot on the car. If you have a good car it makes life much easier than if you have an average one. I was pretty happy after the first test we did a few weeks ago and it felt pretty normal already,” added Raikkonen, who drove a two-year-old car at Valencia last month.
The new black and gold E20 is named after the team’s Enstone factory as the 20th car the workforce have built there going back to the days of Toleman, Benetton and Renault.
Both Benetton and Renault won titles, the latter in 2005 and 2006 with Alonso.
The first chassis from Enstone made under the Lotus name had the distinctive stepped nose seen on all the cars launched so far, with the exception of McLaren. There was also new sponsorship from Unilever brands Rexona and Clear.
It will be fired up Monday before the first pre-season test starts at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain Tuesday.
“The people (here) know how to build a good car and even the biggest teams cannot produce every year the winning car...they are very capable people and have a good feeling of things and are pushing hard so hopefully we get good results,” said Raikkonen.
Renault were just four points ahead of sixth-placed Force India last year, with Russian Vitaly Petrov as main driver and Brazilian Bruno Senna replacing Germany’s Nick Heidfeld for the latter half of the championship.
Editing by Mark Meadows