F1: Raikkonen hopes Hamilton’s exit will hit Mercedes’ chances
KIMI Raikkonen is hopeful McLaren will be severely weakened by Lewis Hamilton's departure as Lotus target a top-three finish in this year's Formula One world championship.
Hamilton's decision to quit McLaren after 14 years with the team - the final six of those in F1 - and join Mercedes continues to be a main talking point four months on after the announcement was made.
For Lotus, an impressive fourth in the constructors' title race last year, just 75 points behind third-placed McLaren, Hamilton's exit could see them push the top two in Red Bull and Ferrari.
Lotus F1 chairman Gerard Lopez said yesterday, upon the unveiling of his team's new car: "Our expectations are to hopefully do better than we did last year, which is quite a lofty expectation. But it's what we are shooting for."
Whether Hamilton's replacement in Sergio Perez can amass the number of points the Briton regularly achieved is open to debate.
Asked whether McLaren are now less formidable without Hamilton, 2007 world champion Raikkonen said: "Hopefully, yes.
"We will wait and see in testing, and then go from there. It will be interesting to see what happens."
On his return to F1 last season after two years away, Raikkonen was a class act, finishing in the points in 19 of the 20 races en route to claiming third in the drivers' championship behind Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Significantly, the Finn scored the team's first win since 2008, when they were known as Renault, by taking the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi in November.
Given such success, Raikkonen admits there is obvious cause for early optimism for the E21, although he added: "It's not going to be easy to improve on what we did last year.
"But that's the aim, to do better, and hopefully we can do it. If you can qualify further up the grid, then it gives you a better chance to win races and makes your life a lot easier on race days.
"It's the whole package they've tried to make faster, and hopefully we've managed to do it."
With few alterations to the regulations, momentum could be everything going into the new season that starts in Melbourne on March 17.
Technical director James Allison concedes this year's car bears a "family resemblance" to last season's model, but insists he and his team of designers and engineers have not stood still.
"I can assure you we have done a lot. The whole team has worked heart and soul on this thing for a long time," said Allison.
"The rules for this year are very similar to those for last year, but as ever in F1 the devil is in the detail.
"In this car that adds up to a significant amount of performance, so we've a mixture - some neat new ideas, and a pushing of the same sort of concepts as we've been working on for a few years."
In terms of looks, the car has retained the predominantly gold and black livery witnessed last year, although with more flashes of red - notably on the engine air intake and sidepods - than was the case in 2012.
Despite the opportunity to mask the step in the car's nose, widely branded ugly when revealed by the majority of teams at the start of last season, Lotus have opted to retain the design.