Monday, July 28, 2014

Kimi Raikkonen - at crossroads again..

When Kimi Raikkonen left Formula-1 to chase his “interests”, he left a huge void. Not only in Formula-1 circles, but also for millions of fans who tuned into Formula-1 on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Formula-1 was incomplete with a certain Iceman. Two years after (unsuccessfully) chasing his interests, he decided to make a comeback to Formula-1. And then the void was filled again – by the Iceman himself! He was signed by Lotus GP for 2 seasons (for details, click here). His first season was a hit considering he was making a comeback and his car wasn’t one of the best on the track. His 2nd season was slightly below par, but was also hampered by a minor accident and a subsequent surgery towards the end of the season. During the season, it was announced that Ferrari has decided to sign him back for a 2 year deal and he will partner none other than Fernando Alonso. Elation rose to an all-time high (for details, click here). 

Many, including yours truly, felt this could be the perfect way for Kimi Raikkonen to show the world what he is truly capable of and to finish his career on a high. Unfortunately, that has hardly been the case. After 10 races, he has scored a meager 27 points and that too in a Ferrari. Which is even worse when we compare his points tally to that of Fernando Alonso (115 points). So, it’s pretty obvious that Ferrari isn’t as bad as depicted by Raikkonen’s results. Something is terribly amiss. If you are a Raikkonen fan, you know he is capable of bringing out the best out any car he drives. He did that with Sauber in his debut season, did it again with Lotus during his return season. There are numerous occasions when he started at the back of the grid and ran away with a podium finish. Then why a sudden drop in form?

Facts this season – 11 races have been completed this season. Raikkonen’s best finishing position on the grid is 6th, achieved in recently concluded Hungarian GP. He has finished 4 races outside of point-scoring position. That’s 36% of the times this season – quite alarming by Kimi Raikkonen standards. Last time Kimi Raikkonen had achieved pole position in qualifying was way back in 2008 in France during his first stint with Ferrari. You may argue Red Bull had dominated Formula-1 for 3 seasons and Mercedes are dominating F1 this season which leaves teams like Ferrari to fight for remaining positions on the grid. Fair argument. But still doesn’t justify Raikkonen’s credentials.

Before blaming Kimi Raikkonen for lack of performance, we need to see the season in its entirety. Let’s admit it, Ferrari has not been competitive at all this season as far as winning is concerned. Mercedes are miles ahead of everyone. Mercedes winning the constructors is almost a foregone conclusion. Even the driver’s championship is now a 2 horse race, between two Mercedes drivers. Rest are playing for 3rd place now. However, that’s where Alonso is, fighting for the 3rd spot. The point difference between Alonso and Raikkonen shows there’s more to the lack of form that just the car setup. Raikkonen has just not been able to get hold of his Ferrari. The car setup doesn’t feel the same for him. But poor strategic decisions taken by the Ferrari management during the qualifying / race has contributed significantly. Raikkonen, who’s usually quiet, has been very vocal this season about the lack of progress in his car and a need for changes within Ferrari. Alonso himself agreed it’s not a car capable of winning – something that you don’t always expect from a Ferrari.

Another point to note here is the advancements in technology and drastic rule changes in F1. When Kimi Raikkonen raced for McLaren back in the days, it was more about raw driving than better technology in the car. Now it’s more about better technology than having a better car (case in point – with due respects to Daniel Ricciardo, he is driving Red Bull better than the defending champion Vettel). With introduction of DRS, it’s relatively easier to overtake a car in front of you than it was few seasons ago. Don’t get me wrong, DRS enables overtaking which makes F1 races exciting. But I’d rather prefer a one-one contest between two drivers with no one having an undue advantage.

Raikkonen admitted that driving this season has not be a fun experience. Kimi, watching you drive hasn’t been fun either. If these are the signs we are supposed to read, then please understand that you are now at the cross-roads. If you feel the next season will be more or less the same, then you need to make a tough decision. A decision, perhaps, to leave F1 for good and move onto other areas of your interest. This is nothing new for you. You have already done it before. Kimi Raikkonen surely knows what he is doing (link). Personally, I won’t be surprised if he decides to quit F1. A void will still be created, but this time his fans will rather live with it than watch his fall for another season.

The next few races will surely clear the air. As a fan, I hope Kimi Raikkonen stays competitive for more years to come.

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