Kimi Raikkonen is to miss the final two races of the 2013 Formula One season after choosing to undergo surgery for a recurring back problem.
The Finn, in his final fortnight as a Lotus driver before returning to Ferrari, has complained of back issues throughout the year and his manager Steve Robertson announced on Sunday morning that his driver will sit out the American and Brazilian Grand Prix.
It is a decision that F1 has been poised for in recent weeks, although the reasoning for his departure has come as a shock.
Raikkonen and the Lotus team have suffered a fraught relationship in recent months due to the 2007 World Champion not receiving ‘a single Euro’ during the 2013 season. Raikkonen is not often one to mince his words and his actions this year, such as missing Thursday media days, have made it obvious that both sides of the dispute will be happy to split.
Raikkonen will now head to Salzburg for the surgery, which is set to require a four week recovery period. That will allow sufficient recovery before he begins his commitments with Ferrari.
Robertson spoke to Autosport and Finnish Newspaper Turun Sanomat about his driver’s decision. “In an ideal world it would have been nice to finish the season with Lotus in the final two grands prix,” said Robertson. “However, due to the severe pain that Kimi is having, sadly it is not possible.”
Ferrari were unaware of Raikkonen’s back problem when signing for the team, so this move was likely prompted by the heads at Maranello in order to ensure his fitness before pre-season begins in early 2014. Raikkonen was at Maranello this week for a 2014 seat fitting and the subject of his surgery may well have arisen then.
There is also the possibility of a Pirelli tyre test in Bahrain during December, which could make this sudden decision more necessary and understandable.
Lotus must now decide on the driver to partner Romain Grosjean in two crucial races for the team. They currently sit fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship but are on a fine run at this stage of the season, and have third placed Ferrari in their sights.
Reserve driver Davide Valsecchi is the likely candidate to fill the vacant seat, which would give the Italian 2012 GP2 Champion the perfect opportunity to illustrate his capabilities before Lotus make a final decision on their 2014 driver line-up.