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?