Raikkonen no-show fuels speculation

By Alan Baldwin

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Kimi Raikkonen's strained relationship with his Lotus Formula One team was back in the spotlight on Thursday after the Finn failed to turn up for media interviews at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

A team spokesman said the 2007 world champion, who is joining Ferrari at the end of the season, was flying in later and would be at the track for Friday practice after returning to Europe following last weekend's race in India.

Despite the explanation, the no-show still triggered speculation in the paddock about a breakdown in relations between team and driver following an angry exchange during the Indian race.

Raikkonen has skipped Thursday sessions before, notably in Belgium in August when the team said he was sick although most in the paddock felt it had more to do with wanting to avoid tiresome questions about his future.

The Finn, who won his title with Ferrari and is renowned for his dislike of media sessions, has also cited late or non-payment of his full wages as one of the reasons for his departure from the team.

At the Indian Grand Prix, Lotus trackside operations manager Alan Permane told Raikkonen in strong language to get out of the way of team mate Romain Grosjean - and received another profanity in return.

Team principal Eric Boullier apologised for the incident this week and said it would not happen again.

Although both titles have been decided, with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel taking their fourth successive championships, Lotus are still in with a shout of second place in the constructors' standings and need Raikkonen to play a part in that battle.

Lotus are 24 points behind third-place Ferrari and 28 adrift of second placed Mercedes with three races remaining.

Raikkonen is third overall, having scored 183 points, while Grosjean is seventh with 102 but has finished his last three races on the podium.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

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