The three Kimi Raikkonens

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Monaco, 2008, 470150

On his day, Kimi Raikkonen is untouchable. Blisteringly quick over a single lap, relentlessly consistent over a stint, irrepressibly smart when it comes to the cut and thrust of wheel-to-wheel racing.

And then he turns up at the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix and puts in the kind of performance that makes you wonder whether Nelson Piquet Jnr has taken over his car. Or he meekly follows team mate Felipe Massa around for an afternoon before zipping back to Switzerland.

Raikkonen had a tough start to last season but he turned it around and was the driver to beat over the final races. With the title under his belt I expected him to assert himself at Ferrari and lead Massa home more often than not. And yet we’re still not seeing that kind of consistency from him. Why is that?

For me, Raikkonen is easily F1’s most impenetrable driver. And I know others feel the same way – back in April Clive at F1 Insight asked:

Why does he throw it off the road so needlessly sometimes? Why has he not blown Massa into the weeds yet? Why does he look so determined at one race and then apathetic at the next?

That sums it up quite neatly. In six races this year we’ve seen three different Raikkonens: the masterful world champion who blew everyone away at Sepang and Catalunya, the muted runner-up to his team mate at Bahrain and Istanbul, and the error-prone mess that showed up at Melbourne and Monte-Carlo.

Over the balance of 2007 we saw muxh more of the first two Raikkonens than the third. And as Massa, despite the odd wobble, continues to gradually improve, so we must revise our expectation that Raikkonen will beat him week in, week out.

But over the first six races of it’s starting to look as though Massa is overtaking him – and the championship points standings are beginning to bear that out.

Perhaps part of the picture has been distorted by the absence of Michael Schumacher. In his peak years of 2001-3 mistakes from Schumacher were quite rare and the thought of him turning up at a race weekend and just being off the pace was unthinkable.

Schumacher, of course, was afforded every advantage a number one driver was entitled to. Neither Raikkonen nor Massa have that at Ferrari today. So it’s possible that I’m judging the current drivers too harshly.

However I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the reigning Formula 1 world champion not to lose control of his car four times in six races.

Last year’s explanation that he was having trouble acclimatising to the new Bridgestone tyres is gone. And he has the best car on the grid. So what is going on with Kimi Raikkonen?

Kimi Raikkonen biography

Kimi Raikkonen, Robert Kubica, Monaco, 2008, 470313

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55 comments on The three Kimi Raikkonens

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  1. He’s just not quite the master we thought he was, that’s all. Our expectations have been too high and it turns out that he’s human after all. I would go so far as to say that he is not the “fastest driver of today” and that there are several on the grid who are just as quick or quicker and far better when it comes to consistency.

    He does have more character than most, however, as demonstrated by his immediate apology to Adrian Sutil after the race.

  2. Brar Soler said on 27th May 2008, 15:39

    Looking again the video, it is clear that the car made a sudden violent move. For something like that Coulthard crashed badly. Kimi managed very well to control the frenetic pendulum. Unfortunately he kicked Sutil and that make he looks like thieve.

  3. Scott Joslin said on 27th May 2008, 15:48

    I agree Clive – oddly enough, the more I see Kimi going through these ups and down, the more I am attracted to his enegmatic racing character. Which years ago I thought there was very little to the man. It puts perspective to his achievements and to his failures.

    Consistency is the element that he is missing but he is blindingly quick. Some drivers have consistency like Heidfield and DC but never impress through raw pace.

    He has other priorities in life and that’s why he won’t dominate like Schumacher, Senna, Prost or Lewis if the comparisons are to turn out to be true. He will be happy to turn his back on F1 when he feels he has had enough.

  4. He seems to be too lazy to ‘analyse’ what he does-be it winning or losing. That may be is the reason why others improve much more than what he does. I believe he takes piloting as a hobby and not as a profession.

  5. If Raikkonen treats F1 as a hobby then God only knows what he’d be like if he took it seriously!
    Maybe Massa really is better than we thought he was and Raikkonen isn’t coping as well as we thought he would. Raikkonen has had fast team-mates before (DC, Montoya) but none have been a threat to his title, like Massa is.

  6. Clive, he’s not the fastest? I thought he has more fastest laps than any other on the grid today, at least this season, isn’t it?

  7. James said on 27th May 2008, 16:34

    I don’t think there is anything in it. He made a mistake at Monaco; not really an indicator of anything – Massa, Hamilton, Coulthard, Alonso etc. all made errors to some degree.

    Firstly, he’s got a teammate who has torn up his own formbook. The Massa that we’re seeing now is methodical and disciplined, and this is allowing his potential to emerge in a controlled manner which has thus far eluded him.

    Raikonnen is fit, talented, and is blisteringly fast. He’s not dominated his teammate (and he’s not got into a fight with him either) and I believe that what we are seeing is simply a well-rounded individual who is experiencing ups and downs of a perfectly tolerable amplitude.

    It is interesting how the ghost of Schumacher continues to haunt F1. We expect the man in the red car bearing the number one to be near-mythical in stature.

  8. George said on 27th May 2008, 16:42

    Massa does continue to amaze and improve. His performance at Monaco was absolutely surprising. Perhaps we should stop being so surprised by him! Everyone has good days and bad days – Schumacher’s dominance of the sport over a period of years really raised the bar in terms of what we expect from a top-line F1 driver, I think Keith was right to point that out. This time last year we were asking the same questions about Raikonnen, after a similarly wobbly spell – he turned it around and won the title. I’m not sure that Kimi is as desperately hungry for continual success as, say, Schumacher was. I’m also fairly sure that whilst is 100% professional, he’s not prepared to consume his every waking moment with his career, a la Senna or Schumacher. His natural feel for a car is incredible – perhaps we are lucky that he doesn’t have Michael’s mindset, or we’d simply be in the middle of another replay of 2004!

  9. Robert Mckay said on 27th May 2008, 16:43

    I think there’s a lot of people who saw him as the next Micheal Schumacher, and it’s not so much that he’s not as good as we thought, he’s just not so much better than the rest than we thought.

    It’s an unfair thing to say, since I’m not personally there to see or not see it, but I tend to agree with Sriram’s comment that he just turns up and drives. I don’t think he goes and analyses data for 4 hours afterwards, I don’t think he reruns every lap in his head, I don’t think he spends weeks, months thinking about the sport when he doesn’t have to. He’s so good “just turning up and driving” is still enough to blow away most of the grid, but it’s clear this approach has limitations, especially in modern F1.

    The continual throwaway comments that he makes about probably not hanging round the sport for terribly much longer only add to that view.

    Plus, it’s entirely, totally possible that he just happened to have his peak years in the seasons where the car was not a winner, and so we couldn’t appreciate it as much. This is his 8th season, after all.

  10. Dan M said on 27th May 2008, 16:46

    I think hes as good as everyone thought he was, he just doesn’t try that hard some weeks.

    He seems like a person who has become bored with the sport and will soon move on to other things. His personality never struck me as someone who HAD to be the best like a Shumi and he seems to be losing his desire.

  11. Obster said on 27th May 2008, 16:54

    I know the race was not his best. A question; how were the Ferrari’s set up? Were they biased towards a dry track or wet? It seemed that neither he or Massa were effective near the end of the race.

  12. Michael K said on 27th May 2008, 17:23

    I’m more on the side of the people who say that he just doesn’t care enough. He’s said it himself several times by arguing that he does what the hell he wants to do and nobody is allowed to judge him. He has an abundance of talent, but I suspect his work ethic isn’t as meticulous as Schumacher’s, Senna’s or Prost’s.
    I hate the word, but he’s just not as “driven” as those legendary drivers. Now does he maybe lead a happier or more balanced life than those guys? I’m sure he does, which is of course bad for Ferrari and his fans, but he doesn’t seem to feel that he owes anything to them. He showed what he can do at the end of last season and that probably just calmed him down even more. He’s already made more money than he probably needs to have, so if he is just doing a job, I can understand him, even though I have to say that especially his performance in Monaco was very disappointing. On the other hand his apology to Sutil was very unlike any recent champion, or do you think Schumi or Alonso would have reacted that way?
    That again shows that he’s maybe not egocentric enough as a driver to get to that 5-in-a-row level of Schumacher. Maybe he just doesn’t have a huge chip on his shoulder and is just a balanced individual? Nice and boring at the same time, I guess…

  13. Haplo: He also has the fastest car of the season and fastest laps are a notoriously bad indicator of actual race-long ability. It’s clear from the comments that Kimi’s lack of consistency needs to be taken into account when assessing him as a driver. If he lacks commitment, that lessens his value as a driver.

    There have been others. Carlos Reutemann was renowned for being “blisteringly quick” in one race and then driving as if he couldn’t care less in the next. Usually we notice this tendency quite early but, for some unknown reason, Kimi has escaped until now.

    Personally, I blame the phrases “blisteringly” and “blindingly fast” – whoever invented them should be shot. They give a false impression of speed way beyond that of ordinary mortals and I doubt that anyone could live up to them. And Kimi certainly doesn’t. Yes, sometimes he’s a bit quicker than the rest – but wouldn’t Alonso be faster in the same car? And he’d do it time after time as well.

    That’s why Alonso is “the fastest driver” of today, if we disregard the new guys like Hamilton, Kovalainen and Kubica, all of whom need to prove a bit more before we grade them. Come to think of it, that’s another possible reason why Kimi is not living up to our expectations; there is a whole new generation of hotshoes in F1 now and Kimi may have missed his moment to dominate. Heck, had you put Sutil in Kimi’s car at Monaco, chances are that he’d have won! :D

  14. Nick said on 27th May 2008, 18:01

    I’m sorry, I’ve yet to be impressed by Massa this season. His two wins are on “his” tracks, should have been spain as well but Kimi destroyed him there. In Monaco, Massa had his chance to prove me wrong with pole for the race, ends up 3rd.

    The problem is Massa is a better qualifier, but Kimi is quite better in the race. Kimi therefore has to pull a sepang or france and brazil during pitstops to get by…if another car is in between them, then of course Kimi can’t pass Massa as well.

    However, every race Kimi has started ahead of Massa, I believe Kimi has put him in the dust.

  15. the limit said on 27th May 2008, 18:55

    Nobody has taken into account the internal politics going on at Ferrari at the moment, and the lingering
    rumours of Alonso joining the team in 2010.
    During Michael Schumacher’s time at Ferrari, the team was rock solid in every area, in every department.
    Until 2006, you never got to hear anything negative
    from inside the team, it was a completely closed shop.
    Is it not inconcievable that these rumours and
    speculation about Alonso may, and I stress ‘may’, beginning to show on Kimi Raikkonen?
    We are not used to seeing him like this very often, and his last race has to rate highly as one of his worst, even accounting for his years at McLaren.
    You would be foolish to discount him from the championship, but he is not coming across as a man
    who is in love with what he is doing.

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