By Alan Baldwin
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Lotus moved to smother speculation about a breakdown in relations with 'prodigal son' Kimi Raikkonen on Friday by highlighting how much they will miss him when he moves to Ferrari next season.
Speaking on the day the Finn showed up for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after missing Thursday's media activities, Lotus chairman Gerard Lopez took to the Formula One team's website (www.lotusf1team.com) to calm the situation.
The partnership with Raikkonen, he said, had been a 'perfect fit' for Lotus.
Far from being the taciturn 'Iceman', thwarting the global media in its search for a soundbite or penetrating insight, Lopez presented the Finn as "actually a very talkative, very friendly guy.
"One of the unfortunate things about being in the limelight is that people are always trying to make it look like there are huge fights going on," he added.
"We discussed the fact that Kimi was signing for Ferrari between the two of us and it was a very frank discussion.
"The whole Iceman thing actually prevails on the track from where he is very cool-headed and a very good driver. In reality he's a kind guy...and over the two years I've gained a friend in Formula One which is a difficult place to do so."
Last weekend's Indian Grand Prix triggered fresh speculation that the relationship was on the rocks after track operations manager Alan Permane was heard swearing at the Finn as he told him to get out of team mate Romain Grosjean's way.
Raikkonen, who won his 2007 world championship with Ferrari, replied with a similar expletive and his manager was quoted as saying he had never heard of a team treating their driver in such a manner.
"A lot was made about the comments...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," said Lopez.
"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 made his comeback with the team last year after spending two years in rallying and other international motorsport series.
Lopez said Lotus had always believed in the Finn and had wanted to keep him, but had not been able to match Ferrari's offer.
"For me this brought sadness, as it's like the prodigal son leaving us," said Lopez, who hailed the Finn as the only reason the team was now fighting for second place in the standings.
"The first thing that Kimi did was to remove any excuses from the team. We knew we had one of the best ever drivers in Formula One and as a result of that there was no escape from whether the cars were good enough," he added.
"With Kimi we knew we had a benchmark.
"The second thing he did was match really well with who we are as a culture...for us essentially he was the perfect puzzle piece and for him I think it was a perfect fit. I still think it's one of the best partnerships in Formula One."
Lotus are 24 points behind Ferrari in the constructors' championship, and 28 adrift of second placed Mercedes, with three races to go.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)