|© Andrew Ferraro/Lotus
Lotus chairman Gerard Lopez has played down the rift between Kimi Raikkonen and a member of the technical staff at last weekend's Indian Grand Prix.
Raikkonen was told over the race radio by trackside operations director Alan Permane not to hold up teammate Romain Grosjean as they almost bumped into each other battling for third place. Grosjean ended up taking third place, with Raikkonen finishing seventh.
Raikkonen was absent for media duties at the Abu Dhabi GP on Thursday and only arrived for Friday's first practice session, fuelling speculation of a fall-out.
"Recently a lot was made about the comments between Alan Permane and Kimi during the course of a tense moment in a race, but this was just one exchange taking a matter of seconds in the course of a two-year relationship," Lopez said Friday. "It certainly wasn't the most beneficial few seconds, but you have to step back and accept that everyone is passionate about racing and sometimes these things do happen."
Raikkonen will leave Lotus for Ferrari next season, a decision that was rumoured for weeks and finally confirmed in early September.
The move appeared to be largely financially-motivated, with Lotus struggling to pay Raikkonen's wages this year and unable to give him enough assurances for next season.
"For a long time we had the opportunity to keep him in our hands, but we weren't able to operate to the timeframe -- or make the offer -- that Ferrari were able to do," Lopez said. "For me this brought sadness, as it's like a prodigal son leaving us."
Raikkonen came out of Formula 1 retirement and a stint in rally driving to join Lotus last season and took little time to readjust, finishing in third place overall and showing remarkable consistency in his comeback season.
"I really think that this is one of those partnerships in Formula 1 that is, and will be remembered, as being very, very special," Lopez said, adding that Raikkonen's image as a reclusive, somewhat aloof figure is undeserved.
On Thursday, Grosjean said he has no relations whatsoever with Raikkonen away from the track, but Lopez sees the Finn differently.
"In reality he's a kind guy, he's a very talkative guy," Lopez said. "Over the two years I've gained a friend in Formula 1, which is a difficult place to do so."
Lopez also praised the influence the 34-year-old Raikkonen has had on Grosjean -- the Frenchman who has hit form late into the season with three consecutive third-place finishes.
"Had Romain been next to a more junior driver, or a less capable driver, we probably would still not know how good Romain is," Lopez said. "For Romain to be delivering the results he is doing so now, it's really very much because he is driving next to probably one of the best Formula 1 drivers ever. Kimi has been a tremendous help."
With three races left, staring with Sunday's Abu Dhabi GP, Lotus still has an outside shot at finishing second behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship. Mercedes, with 313 points, and Ferrari, with 309, are in a stronger position while Lotus stands at 285.
"The only reason we're fighting for second is because of all the points that Kimi has scored," Lopez said.
Raikkonen is third overall behind Fernando Alonso and recently-crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel.