NOVEMBER 30, 2011
I get easily confused. For a second or two on Monday, I did think that Lotus - as in the green and yellow 'real' Lotus - had signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2012. My immediate reaction was: 'Wow! What a way to end a great weekend for this team. There's no stopping them now.'
Then, of course, the truth dawned that we were talking about the 'other' Lotus, soon to become the 'real' Lotus rather than Lotus- Renault/Benetton/Toleman/Take your pick, while green and yellow Lotus says goodbye to that grand ideal and becomes 'Caterham F1'. (I'd better stop because I'm intruding on 'Old Mo's Almanac' territory here - and it's only the beginning of December).
But here's the thing: the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that Kimi going to 'Now we're Lotus' is not such a bad thing for 'Goodbye Lotus'. While Jarno Trulli should be politely shown the door with grateful thanks for all his input (and a request for a couple of cases of the excellent 'Jarno Red' from his Podere Castorani vineyard for the team's Christmas party), you could argue that Raikkonen would not have been his ideal replacement at 'Goodbye Lotus'.
In fact, to be completely honest, I'm not convinced the new liaison with Lotus-Renault is all it's cracked up to be once you strip away the emotional hype prompted by the return of the enigmatic, thrilling but ultimately indolent Finn. (Having rolled that smoking bomb across the forum floor, I'll retreat and leave it for discussion in a future column).
Getting back to 'Goodbye Lotus': Heikki Kovalainen has had a stonking season, taking into account a car that has raced without KERS and other 'must have' bits associated with a blown diffuser. Out-running the pair of Saubers in Korea was a particular highlight.
Having Heikki join the new team had been a gamble for both sides at the end of 2009. Kovalainen's confidence and reputation had been trashed after two years alongside Lewis Hamilton at McLaren; Heikki, in turn, was walking into a team that existed only on paper and in the enthusiastic minds of Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne. But, you have to say, it's worked out for both sides.
Having run more than 85 Grands Prix in total, Kovalainen now has the experience and, more important, the hunger to carry the team onto the next stage, leaving room in the second seat for a promising youngster with talent and, if possible, a bit of money.
That last requirement is not as essential as before thanks to Lotus breaking into the Bank of Bernie. By finishing 10th in the championship for a second year, 'Goodbye Lotus' now qualify for travel concessions and TV money, reckoned by Ted Kravitz on his excellent BBC TV post-race blog to be worth $40m. Even allowing for Ted sometimes getting things wrong in an endearing Murray Walker sort of way, that's a lot of dosh for a small team gradually getting on its feet after starting in an empty factory just over two years ago.
Lotus have been through some agonies in the past 38 races but none more than during the last one in Brazil. Imagine the scene: you've done all the hard work and reached the final race knowing 10th place on the points table is within touching distance; you've qualified ahead of the opposition (HRT and Marussia Virgin). But the forecast says rain. At Interlagos.
Anyone who witnessed the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix will know exactly what that can mean. There were numerous incidents including no less a person than Michael Schumacher spinning his Ferrari into a wrecker's yard of crashed cars at the exit of Turn 2.
Under a repeat of those conditions, it would be the work of a moment for a hapless Lotus driver to be collected by someone else and a decimated field then allowing a Virgin or HRT to stumble into 12th place or higher. Lotus had scored three 13th places in 2011 but those results would have been as useless as a Finn with a hangover had HRT or Virgin managed to go one better in just this race. That's all it would it take to send Lotus back down the snake for the start of 2012 and another season of serious financial hardship. Two years of desperately hard graft was about to distil into 93 minutes when anything could happen.
The one thing it didn't do was rain. Kovalainen and Trulli finished 16th and 18th with, crucially, Virgin and HRT behind them. Job done. Now it's on to the next phase.
Highly respected aerodynamicist John Iley (ex Jordan, Benetton, Ferrari and McLaren) will join Caterham F1 but word that Daniel Ricciardo would race the second car has proved premature if the FIA official entry list is anything to go by. It would have made an excellent partnership, the young Australian having shown speed and a perfect attitude during his first full season wrestling with an HRT and showing up favourably against the more experienced Tonio Liuzzi.
Meanwhile, the Lotus name will move away for exclusive use elsewhere. This marks an interesting new beginning all round. And no more confusion.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.