Lotus penalty could be last straw for Kimi Raikkonen

 

abu dhabi

Kimi Raikkonen's shock exclusion from fifth place on the grid for today's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a technical infringement on his Lotus after post-qualifying scrutineering yesterday, might prove the straw that breaks the camel's back for the Finn.

On Friday he revealed that he has not been paid all season, is owed £14.5m and could go on strike for the final two races of this season prior to joining Ferrari for next. Then there was last weekend's acerbic radio exchange when he was told to get out of team-mate Romain Grosjean's way while he was lapping two seconds slower than the Frenchman during the Indian GP. As a result a smouldering Raikkonen turned up in Abu Dhabi against the expectations of some having come to some sort of agreement on wages with Lotus.

The team are facing some crucial decisions and such is their financial plight that they will not be able to wait much longer for a deal to be completed with investment prospect Quantum Racing.

If that fails, it would mean forgetting about signing the superb Nico Hulkenberg, sixth on the grid for Sauber before Raikkonen's disqualification, and opting for the wayward Pastor Maldonado, a clear second choice.

Hours after qualifying, Raikkonen's Lotus E21 failed a technical inspection because of excessive deflection of the front section of the floor tray. The left-hand side was found to deflect more than the regulation 5mm. Lotus argued that it had been damaged running over a kerb, but the race stewards did not accept that having let the team off a similar incident in Hungary in August.

Raikkonen, who won this race for Lotus on his comeback last year, will be allowed to start from the back of the grid. But the incident might further persuade the Ferrari-bound Finn to give the final two races, in the US and Brazil, a miss.

As expected, Red Bull dominated qualifying, but it wasn't Sebastian Vettel who took pole. For the second time in three races, team-mate Mark Webber took that honour. That in itself wasn't the surprise, so much as the manner in which he did it.

"What a fantastic lap by Mark," Sky F1's Martin Brundle enthused in the paddock. "You could literally see that one unravelling. That was a great lap!" And indeed it was..

Lewis Hamilton had set the pace in the final qualifying session, with 1min 40.510sec, after being fastest in Q1 and only 0.004sec behind Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Q2. Then Rosberg trimmed the ante down to 1:40.419, as Webber's first effort yielded only 1:40.759 for third place. But then, as happens so often, Vettel "found something" in the final session, and lapped in 1:40.091.

Rosberg failed to improve, Hamilton spun and stalled. Then Webber dropped his bombshell with a lap of 1:39.957. Vettel couldn't better that, 1:40.075 leaving him second.

"We didn't have the smoothest start in either Q1 or Q2," Webber admitted. "But then we started getting into the groove as we changed the car quite a bit and I got more and more comfortable and worked on certain sectors where Seb had already been doing a good job. So overall, I'm very happy with pole."

Webber might make light of it, but he'd love to end his F1 career with a win, and today he has his best chance since Japan. "As Seb says, there are no guarantees," he admitted, "but we've got a good car in the race as we've proved in the last few grands prix, so we'll give it a go…"

Vettel was philosophical. After all, second was hardly a mortal blow. "We're still pretty competitive and this is a good result for the team," he said breezily. "I'm happy enough."

Hamilton was rueful, and said: "Something gave way on the right-hand side of the car." It transpired that the lower right rear suspension wishbone had broken after running hard over a kerb.

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