Attention may be fixed on world champion Sebastian Vettel in Abu Dhabi this weekend but for Sir Jackie Stewart there’s reason to believe someone can step up and end the German’s remarkable winning streak.
Vettel has run away with the last six Grands Prix, winning each race from Belgium onwards, but Stewart says one of the two Lotus drivers can steal the four-time world champion’s thunder tomorrow.
Raikkonen arrives in Abu Dhabi the defending champion, while Grosjean will be looking to improve on from last year when he crashed out on lap 37.
“I think the Lotus is going to go well here. And Christmas doesn’t last forever,” Stewart told Sport360°. “So there is a possibility of the Lotus team being good enough. Either with Grosjean or Kimi. It’s not impossible.”
Grosjean set the pace in the first practice session yesterday afternoon, banging in a lap of 1m 44.241 seconds while Raikkonen was competitive in FP2. And while Red Bull remain the team to beat, Stewart says they haven’t been really challenged this season and sooner or later, someone is bound to step up.
“The Red Bull has unquestionably been the best team with the best car with the best driver all year. But Ferrari have been uncompetitive, McLaren have been uncompetitive, so there comes a time when somebody will be beaten,” the three-time world champion added.
Raikkonen is one of only three drivers to have won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – along with Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – but rumours are rife of trouble in the Lotus garage following the foul-mouthed exchange between Kimi Raikkonen and Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane in India.
Lotus boss Eric Boullier will discuss Raikkonen’s defiance in Abu Dhabi, but when the Finn did not show up for a scheduled media session on Thursday at Yas some wondered whether the departing driver would even take part in the last three races of the season.
Stewart though believes Raikkonen remains committed to his current team. He said: “I still think Kimi wants to win races. Every racing driver wants to get another Grand Prix victory.”
Numerous regulation changes are set to take place next season in what is being described by many as the most radical introduced in Formula One.
The current 2.4-litre normally-aspirated V8 engines are to be replaced with 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, gearboxes are to have eight forward ratios rather than the current seven, and a larger proportion of each car’s power will come from Energy Recovery Systems. Those being just a few changes.
And, while many drivers believe the changes will help level the competition field next season and could slow down Red Bull’s domination, Stewart says it’s too soon to tell.
“I think there’s such a lot of change happening with the engine, nobody quite knows whether the Mercedes engine will be faster than the Renault or the Ferrari and with Honda coming the following year. I think it’s going to be a new game and we have to wait and see,” the 74-year-old Scot said.
Over the course of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, Sport360's Reem Abulleil will be providing an alternative view of the goings on at the Yas Marina Circuit.
It’s no secret Kimi Raikkonen is one of the most intriguing characters in Formula One and his disdain for the media and the PR obligations of the sport is so strong it reaches the degree of comical.
The Iceman is quite icy with his team, Lotus, too. Whether he’s telling them over the radio to “leave me alone” while racing in Abu Dhabi last year, or he’s ignoring their orders in India last weekend and exchanging swear words with Trackside Operations Director Alan Permane.
Raikkonen was a no-show at media day here in Abu Dhabi even though he was scheduled for a 14:30 appearance on Thursday, and it almost seemed like the people at Lotus didn’t know where he was.
“He’s on his way, we believe,” was the response I got from the press officer.
But he wasn’t going to talk to the press and there was no sign of him all day. This weekend we also found out he’s just as obscure with his teammates or fellow drivers.
Romain Grosjean told me a year ago that he doesn’t know Raikkonen much. It’s 12 months later and the Frenchman stands by his comments about his team-mate.
“As a man, I would say, Kimi basically I don’t know him. He is with me as he is with you,” Grosjean said gesturing to the media.
Fernando Alonso, who has spent no less than 10 seasons with Raikkonen on the grid and will be his team-mate at Ferrari next year added: “I cannot say anything because I do not know him enough to speak about him personally.”
It seems the only one who admits he has some kind of relationship with Raikkonen is Sebastian Vettel, who teased Grosjean about the lack of communication with his team-mate.
“I have huge respect for the fact that he loves what he’s doing, he loves motor racing, any form of it,” said Vettel. “F1 gives him a lot of satisfaction. He doesn’t like the rest of it so much.
“On a personal level, he does talk to me. I don’t know what I do differently [looks at Grosjean].
“He’s one of the most straightforward guys I’ve met so far and I respect a lot that he has always been very honest. Since I came into F1, he was ready to help, even gave me a lift a couple of times early on.”
MASSA'S PERFECT MATCH
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa won’t be encouraging his three-year-old son Felipinho to become a F1 driver, joking he’d rather he be a footballer.
“I will not push my son to become a driver. Maybe football, at least I can go to the stadium, eat French fries and watch him play. Much better than being here with all this noise,” said the Brazilian.
Jean-Eric Vergne insists he has overcome his Red Bull snub and believes the rejection has made him a more mature and stronger driver.
Vergne’s Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was offered the highly-coveted second seat at Red Bull, to be vacated by Mark Webber at the end of this season, and while the Frenchman admits it was a tough blow, he believes some good will come out of it.
Vergne was first signed as a member of the Red Bull Junior Team in 2007, when he was just 17, and has been carefully promoted and developed through the ranks of motorsport.
Vergne admitted it came as a “big blow” when he missed out on becoming Sebastian Vettel’s No2 in September but believed at the time his inferior qualifying form was probably the main reason for Red Bull selecting Ricciardo.
“I think I’m past it,” Vergne said. “But I needed to understand the reason why I wasn’t chosen and once the reasons are understood, that’ll make me grow up more.”
Vergne can find some consolation in becoming Toro Rosso’s No1 driver next season now that he will be joined by Russian teenage rookie, Daniil Kvyat, although the 23-year-old says he is not concerned with such formalities.
“That’s not something that really excites me,” Vergne said. “I think what excites me for next year is the change in regulations. All the work I’m going to have to put in with the team to succeed.
“Therefore I don’t really look at what’s happening next to me with my team-mate. I guess he’s going to have a lot of things to learn and I don’t have the energy to waste thinking of things like this.”
But before looking too far ahead, both Vergne and Ricciardo are hoping to pick up some valuable points for Toro Rosso this weekend at Yas Marina Circuit.
Vergne’s best finish this season was sixth place in Montreal and the Frenchman scored points in two other races and although he describes his year as “frustrating”, he is hopeful in turning things around in Abu Dhabi. “I’m really looking forward to the race,” says Vergne – who starts 13th on the grid.
“This Grand Prix is quite special for us. I like this track, it has a great history for me. It was the first time I drove in a Formula One car and it’s a nice place to race.
“I think we can definitely fight for some points. That’s our target. I think we have a good car this year, we just really need to put everything together and then we go and fight for the points.”
Vergne had a solid run towards mid-season with two back-to-back top 10 finishes in Monaco and Canada but a tyre explosion at Silverstone ended his chances of winning points at the British Grand Prix. He concedes that luck hasn’t been on his side in 2013.
“I think it’s been a frustrating season in a way,” he added.
“There were some really good moments but some bad ones as well. “I know I had a good car and for some reason, tyre exploding, collision, whatever. It didn’t work out.
“I think the change of tyres in the middle of the season definitely hit us. And I think we dropped back, Force India did as well and it wasn’t really a good hand for us.”