How much does an F1 driver take to bankrupt his team?
Ever since the first F1 world championship in 1950, the sport has made a name for itself as the playground for the wealthy of the world to pass their time driving fast cars and risking their lives in the process. The Seventies and Eighties was a time when the paddock was adorned with tobacco and alcohol advertising, with second or third thoughts given to driver and spectator safety. The only motive for the people was to go fastest, no matter what.
Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s, a paradigm shift happened within the sport that pushed the boundaries of safety technology and driver preservation. The product of that innovation is seen today with the sport being as safe as it ever was. This, however, came with a by-product of engineering costs and expertise. Motorsports is generally a very expensive affair and this shift in philosophy took the sport's expenses to newer heights.
Drivers are one of the key expenses a team in the modern day and age has to bear, with these guys and girls accepting the risk of their adrenaline-charged day job. One of the most popular stories of this expense being too much to handle for an F1 team came in 2012 with Kimi Raikkonen making his return to the highest echelon of motorsports with the Lotus F1 team.
Raikkonen retired from the open-wheeled series in 2009 after winning the driver's title with Scuderia Ferrari in 2007. He was paid not to return to the sport as the Italian constructor made way for a certain driver by the name of Fernando Alonso. The Finnish driver spent his time away from F1 in NASCAR and rally racing but returned to the sport with Lotus F1 in 2012.
The former Renault F1 team that catapulted Alonso to his 2 championships, was renamed Lotus in 2012. Their best result in three years in the sport before being sold back to Renault came in the form of a fourth-place finish in the constructors' championship. During this time, drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Pastor Maldonado, and Romain Grosjean drove for the Enstone-based outfit.
So how did Kimi Raikkonen bankrupt Lotus F1 team?
2007 F1 world champion and a driver who was once called 'Schumacher's Nightmare', Kimi Raikkonen was the perfect candidate to propel a newfound team to success that they would have hoped for in the highest echelon of motorsports in the world.
The fairytale, however, was cut short after Gerald Lopez, the team boss at Lotus F1 signed a clause in the Finn's contract, awarding him a bonus of €50,000 for every point he scored. Lopez did not expect 'The Iceman' to have such fiery performances on the track, contrary to his nickname. Raikkonen drove the 2012 Lotus E20 and 2013 E21 cars, which ended in 390 points, 13 podium finishes, and 2 race wins within two years.
The points bonus alone was €19.5 million, which is on top of Raikkonen's hefty salary of €8 million at the team. Safe to say, the team was not a huge manufacturer-backed outfit as Lotus' road car operations were minuscule compared to others, and this brought the team to the brink of bankruptcy.
It is speculated that Raikkonen was never paid his full €19.5 million bonus. The now 42-year-old let go of a significant sum of that money after people were losing jobs in the team. The sum, which amounts to around €6 million, is still owed by Lotus to Kimi Raikkonen to date.