Brutally quick race winner, or over-rated car breaker?
Heir to Michael Schumacher’s mantle, or, in the words of Jacques Villeneuve, an, “over-rated driver package,” who, “really doesn’t care?”
2007 world drivers’ champion, or three-times runner-up?
These are the contradictions and misconceptions about Kimi Raikkonen that the 2007 season will go some way towards reconciling.
His detractors will be watching closely for the tell-tales mistakes and innuendo from the team about ‘car breaking’ that many feel cost him the 2005 championship.
The realisation that the 2006 McLaren was not up to the task of fighting for the world championship must have hit Raikkonen hard. At the Nurburgring last year he drove an unrelentingly fast, error-free race (the very antithesis of his 2006 performance at the same venue) and finished fourth.
That and the knowledge that Fernando Alonso would come to McLaren in 2007 meant that Raikkonen’s switch to Ferrari was the worst-kept secret of last year.
But he arrives to find a very different Scuderia than the one which destroyed the 2000-2004 seasons. Enormous upheaval has seen many of the top men leave.
And, paradoxically, Schumacher is still there. Not driving (though he can if he wants, according to Jean Todt), but lingering in the background. Does this tell us simply how highly Ferrari value the former champion’s presence – or is at an early warning signal that the combined abilities of Massa and Raikkonen cannot get the most out of the team?
Alternatively, it could be a shrewd assessment on Ferrari’s part that not only does Raikkonen not care to put in the hours of debriefing necessary to get the final 0.1% of performance out of a car – Schumacher’s vanguard – but that he is happy to leave that to someone else.
Raikkonen merely wants to jump in and drive the wheels off the thing which has always been his thing whether he’s eviscerating the opposition racing from 17th to last (Suzuka, 2005), or wrenching every last hundredth from a car that just doesn’t have it (Nurburgring, 2006).
In Ferrari, Raikkonen will find a team whose cars have been substantially more reliable than his former team’s over past seasons – for which he will doubtless be deeply grateful. He will also find a time with the most uncompromisingly high expectations of its lead driver.
If both parties understand exactly what they are letting themselves in for, they could win races and championships. The driver must seize this chance to underline his talent with a championship victory; the team must prove they can exist without Michael Schumacher.
It is a terribly important time for both of them.