Bahar: Raikkonen deserves to have higher value than normal driver

By on Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Raikkonen visiting the Lotus factory in Enstone

Speaking to a group of journalists at a media lunch in London on Monday, Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar talked about Kimi Raikkonen's commercial value, the reasons behind hiring the 2007 Formula 1 world champion and the team's expectations of their number one driver next season.

"Kimi is Kimi, and he is a world champion in F1. He deserves definitely to have a higher value than a normal driver, just because he is Kimi Raikkonen. It is always a big amount of money when you employ a former world champion. It’s always bigger than to get a young driver,” said Bahar.

Raikkonen was reportedly paid up to US $51 million dollars annually while he was driving for Ferrari. In the current driver market, however, with many young drivers coming forth with sponsorship deals to obtain a seat in Formula 1, Bahar confirms that Lotus will not be able to pay the Finnish driver anywhere close to the amount he was receiving from Ferrari several years ago.

"This is not Ferrari and this is not a world championship winning car at the moment, so you always have to see this side as well, and maybe our team, or any other team in that field, cannot afford to pay that kind of salary now. Kimi has realised that, but he will never sell himself under his value. He is too strong a character for that. I think what he is getting now is a fair value for what he delivers, but we have to see the performance on the track," Bahar added.

There have been reports indicating that Raikkonen's salary at Lotus is at least 10 million euros per year. Although there were rumours that Raikkonen was looking to acquire some equity in Williams while he was negotiating with them, it does not appear that this is the case with Lotus. Raikkonen's PR manager, Riku Kuvaja has already denied that the Finn has a stake in the Enstone-based team.

It is clear that Bahar recognizes the commercial aspect of hiring a former world champion. In an interview with the official Formula 1 website last week, Bahar stated, "Kimi will be a great ambassador for our brand. His fighting spirit and pure competitive nature make him a good match."

In fact, just hours after the announcement that Raikkonen would be returning to Formula 1 next season with Lotus, his image was already being prominently displayed on the Group Lotus' website. Group Lotus is in the business of selling sports cars and their hope is to generate a massive amount of PR value for their brand through the presence of a former world champion in their Formula 1 team.

By signing two champions, one in Formula 1 and one in GP2 - eschewing pay drivers in the process, Lotus is hoping to be fighting for the world championship again within three years, as previously stated by Lotus Renault team principal Eric Boullier to BBC Sport.

Bahar also confirms this view, saying: “The decision we took was to bring the team to the next level, to restructure the team, bring in new technical talent and an experienced driver, not to go after pay drivers any more or look for the highest bidder any more. It’s to get more and more competitive as it was in 2005 and 2006.”

The tragic rallying accident suffered by Robica Kubica before the start of the 2011 season was a huge blow to the team. They had signed Kubica in 2010 as the lead driver with the intention of building the team around him. In his place, Lotus Renault signed Nick Heidfeld but the German driver struggled to even outqualify his teammate Vitaly Petrov. Heidfeld was replaced mid-season by reserve driver Bruno Senna and although the Brazilian did manage to outqualify Petrov on a number of occasions, his driving during the races let him down, with him getting involved in several race incidents.

Despite the fact that Heidfeld was replaced mid-season, Petrov only finished 3 points ahead of Heidfeld in the drivers standings. It was becoming clear that the team could not move forward with a driver line-up consisting of Petrov and Senna.

Raikkonen and Genii Capital chairman Gerard Lopez

Signing Raikkonen was 'a risk'

Enter Kimi Raikkonen. Now all he had to do was prove to Lotus that he was motivated and hungry to succeed, and the seat was his.

"Kimi is a very good guy, a very cool guy. We respect him a lot, and that is the reason he is with us," said Bahar.

Raikkonen has not raced in Formula 1 in the past two years. Bahar does admit that signing the Finn was a 'gamble', but Lotus are hoping that Raikkonen can quickly get to grips with racing with the DRS system and the new Pirelli tyres.

"You cannot expect from a driver that was absent for two years to come back and adapt to the new tyres and new regulations from day one, so he needs his time. But whether this time is three days, six races or 20 races, we will see. What is important is to see how his tendency goes towards the performance. If it is always improving, then of course we will give him the time," said Bahar on Monday.

“Undoubtedly he has talent, and we just have to see how quickly he now copes with the new environment, new car, new tyres, new everything, and we hope he will do this very quickly.”

Adapting to Formula 1 after several years away can be difficult, as seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher has clearly demonstrated. Two years after his comeback, Schumacher is still unable to consistently beat his much younger teammate, Nico Rosberg. It remains to be seen that if Raikkonen does struggle in adapting to Formula 1, whether Lotus will show Raikkonen the same degree of patience Mercedes has shown with Schumacher. What Raikkonen does have in his favour however, is that he is ten years younger than Schumacher and that he spent his time away from Formula 1 driving competitively.

Raikkonen has grown up

There have been questions about 32-year-old Raikkonen's basic motivation, with some commentators thinking he did not take his earlier career with McLaren and Ferrari seriously enough. Bahar believes that Raikkonen is different this time around.

"He has matured a lot. He is 32 now, so he is a grown-up man. He knows his return to Formula One will not be easy. But he is not the kid any more he was in Sauber or McLaren. It's a different time and he has to deliver. I think he realises that."

Previously while he was in Formula 1, Raikkonen was infamous for his dislike of the media and any PR-related activities. There are indications however, that during his two-year stint in the World Rally Championship, his previously chilly relationship with the media has thawed somewhat. In the WRC, it is typical for rally drivers to open their car door after every stage for a radio or television crew to interview them. There can be up to ten stages per day, in addition to press conferences, meaning that rally drivers are constantly giving interviews throughout the day.

When Raikkonen first began in the WRC in 2010, he refused to be interviewed at all, driving off whenever a media crew approached his car after a stage. As time went on, he began giving interviews occasionally if he drove a good stage time or if a journalist happened to be so bold as to open his door and thrust a microphone in his face. Towards the end of his WRC stint in 2011 however, the 'Iceman' became accustomed to being interviewed after every stage and he was even voluntarily opening his door to the reporters waiting at the end of the stage.

Although Raikkonen may still harbour a dislike of the media, and that may never change, he may have mellowed somewhat in his time away from Formula 1 and may not be as media-adverse as before.

Lotus not concerned about Raikkonen's snowmobile incident

F1 journalist James Allen reports that Bahar was not perturbed by the recent snowmobile crash Raikkonen was involved in while taking part in the Swatch Snow Mobile race in Austria, which was originally reported here. The Finn was unscathed for the most part, except for a sore wrist.

Bahar admires this quality about Raikkonen, saying: “It is part of our job to do things that are risky, and we do it commercially and corporately. Kimi does it in his own life. I like these characters. It’s unfortunate if he hurts himself, but it’s part of life.”

Writing in Blick newspaper, veteran correspondent Roger Benoit said Lotus' attitude is 'almost negligent'. "Have they learned nothing from the Kubica incident?" he asked.

It appears that the media has made a bigger deal out of Raikonen's fall than the team itself. However, it is not yet known whether the Finn's penchant for wild partying will be tolerated by team. McLaren were known to have openly disapproved of Raikkonen's off-track antics.

Now the question is, will Lotus allow Raikkonen to go rallying in a gorilla suit?

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