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

  1. Monaco was a poor performance from Kimi, that’s undeniable. It’s not the first time that he’s had a bad race, and the same goes for his teammate and his rivals. He is a racing driver, they will make mistakes whether they are world champions or not. Alonso, Schumacher, and many of the past champions have made mistakes, some of those have been far worse than what Kimi has done. Being a champion isn’t about doing everything perfect, but about playing the game better than the rest. I know none have suggested Kimi should be perfect, but I haven’t seen anyone actually wonder what the deeper issues are.

    My opinion is that Kimi is still struggling in the Ferrari, despite being a world champion (we must remember how he closed the 20+ points disadvantage he was in exactly this time last year, and he did his homework and won the most races and then the title). The reasons are far more complex than the inane excuses such as he isn’t bothered or concentrated enough, that his attitude is the problem, or that he isn’t serious enough. That is utter rubbish.

    The concept of adapting to Bridgestones isn’t out the question, Keith. Why should it be? Simply because he’s had one year and won the title? I think not. Kimi was indeed lucky to win the title by one point last year, ut that doesn’t change the fact that he worked hard and improved his performance, kept his cool when others cracked.

    Sometimes, it will be the other way round. He loses his cool while the others don’t. At Australia, his qualifying was ruined by technicalities, he was on the limit throughout the race. Mind you, I also thought he’d ease through and get onto the podium. It certainly looked that way. He’s done it before, right? Plenty of times! I was as shocked as you guys were when he didn’t. So that can only mean there’s some fundamental differences in the Ferrari than he’s had at McLaren. Since last year, Kimi’s had problems with the tyres. It showed at Australia this year, at Bahrain, Turkey and now Monaco.

    Even Nick Heidfeld, who everyone seems to ignore on this similar issue, is still struggling to adapt to them. His boss Mario Theissen has even mentioned this. He says their driving styles are too smooth and this doesn’t generate enough heat into the tyres. Drivers like Kubica and Hamilton who throw their cars around and prefer a loose back end are fine with managing their tyres. However, Hamilton is much more abrasive with his tyres, which showed in Malaysia and Bahrain – races where he failed to reach the podium and score points. I seriously doubt if Lewis Hamilton becomes champion that he’ll never again make mistakes like he does quite often too.

    Felipe is maturing, no doubt about that. He’s always been quick but a bit rough. He’s learnt from his mistakes is now a stronger rival to Kimi. This is natural competitiveness. It doesn’t mean the other driver has suddenly become rubbish.

    At Monaco, Kimi was running in 5th place despite the drive through penalty. That wasn’t so bad. The race being wet most of the time meant he struggled to warm his tyres and thus he was nowhere near the leaders in front. He isn’t doing a better job than he’d like to be, trust me, but he’s working on it. He works as hard as anyone else out there. But sometimes things don’t go right. How much more simple can it get. And whether he’ll overcome his problems, we’ll have to wait and see.

    Kimi has had 4 offs in 6 races indeed, but let’s remember he was the only driver to have scored points in all races up until Monaco. Which is why he was leading the championship. Now he’s lost it, and is 3 points behind. Big deal. But he isn’t the only title contender to have made serious mistakes this year. Even Alonso made crucial mistake at Monaco, he’s a champion too. Lewis at Bahrain was arguably similar to Kimi’s performance in Monaco. And like racers, they bounce back.

    Just because Kimi’s got the No1 on his car doesn’t mean he automatically should be performing like a No1 over his teammate – remember Ferrari give equality to Kimi and Felipe, Felipe will beat Kimi sometimes, sometimes consistantly, but that’s up to Kimi to improve. And he did last year didn’t he? He’s struggling again with the tyres, and something else seems to be bothering him but he certainly isn’t bran dead about it.

    I’ve said enough I think, yes, I’m a supporter of Kimi since he joined F1, but I try to be as objective as possible.

    Great site Keith.

  2. ctm said on 27th May 2008, 19:07

    After all the bad luck during his McLaren years, I’m not surprised if he just lost interest in F1. He is a very good driver. He is probably a very natural talent. F1 was the ultimate challenge for him. Finally, last year he managed to win it. Now, I’m not sure he really cares that much. He has other interests in life. I think he will be out of F1 within two years, and I think he will try to find a seat in WRC. I think he sees that as a much bigger and more exciting challenge than F1.

  3. Daniel said on 27th May 2008, 19:18

    I think Raikkonen is very loyal with his teammates and his fellow F1 drivers, and that’s why he can live with someone as fast as Massa and still be in peace, and why he was so fast and so right to apologize when he hit Sutil.

    About his speed, I just keep saying he and Massa are on the same level, and even though I disagree with what Nick (comment # 15) said, I think he has a point when he says Felipe is a better qualifier and Kimi is a better racer…

    The thing is: Massa is improving, and its impossible to deny it, but I think Raikkonen won’t be blown by him either… there will be a close and fair fight between team-mates throughout the next seasons, completely different from Piquet-Mansell, Senna-Prost and Alonso-Hamilton, which is very rare in Formula 1, correct me if I’m wrong…

  4. Sush said on 27th May 2008, 19:47

    Kimi LOVES fighting from the back row.

    its almost as if he’s faster when he’s qualified in a poor position.

    take melbourne 2007, he fell asleep while leading the race on his own, Fuji? second half of 2005, last year? its almost as if he was driving a different car to everyone else.

    but with a lead he probably starts to think about which shampoo he should use when he gets home
    “mmmm should I use tears of squirrels or that vodka to wash my hair this weekend?”

  5. He is the second best driver in the market today, I would have to rank Alonso as the most complete, Raikkonen 2nd, followed by the others, I dont think he can be compared with Schumacher they are sooo different, Schumacher was visibly committed.

  6. Sush said on 27th May 2008, 20:59

    damn right KB, Schumacher sold his soul for 3 tenths of a second in 1994, and duly used the extra speed to steal his soul back from Satan.

    the Devil being a big fan of irony laughed it off and bought his soul again in 2004 for 2 seconds.

  7. The only reason people are so critical of Kimi is that he is continuously dubbed as “the fastest man” in F1. The results from last year as well as this year clearly shows that he is an good driver in the best car and that there are plenty of drivers on the grid who would do equally well as Kimi given the same car. Kimi has been terribly overhyped and overrated by the Kimi fans. It was them who were predicting that Kimi would destroy Massa last year and this year, but as usual they are left scrambling for excuses. Luckily they can’t use the new tires, new team and the car not being suited for him as an excuse.

  8. Perhaps the reason why nobody (that I know of) noticed Raikkonen’s inconsistency before now was that his cars were generally less consistent than he was, the main exception being the Sauber he started in – which, as a rookie, he was expected to be considerably less consistent than he was. Only now, when he’s got a consistently-quick Ferrari (even last year’s model had days when it suffered in comparison to the McLaren – plus the acclimatisation excuse was often-quoted), has the issue been demonstrably somewhere other than with the car. It looks to me like he needs to feel challenged-but-comfy before he can give his best. Otherwise his attention wanders a bit.

  9. See I don’t look at it in the same way – that Kimi won last year & therefore as WDC he should be blowing everyone into the weeds this year.

    I see it more as Kimi didn’t win but rather Lewis – and to a lesser extent Alonso – lost the title at the last minute. To me, Kimi is winner by default.

    He was inconsistent and ragged at times last year, and let’s not forget his victory in Melbourne in a car later ruled illegal. One of his ‘dominant’ performances I agree, but with a taint over it and clearly pivotal to the eventual outcome of the championship.

    I think he is pretty much driving the same as he did last year, it just remains to be seen whether or not it works out as well for him this year or not.

  10. f1aroo said on 28th May 2008, 3:23

    Going forward—-He is going to Canada where he will have no excuse for not winning. Kimi has probably the best car in F1. He won Canada in ’05 with Mac. He had fastest laps in ’05, ’06. He’s scored 33 points there. HE KNOWS THE TRACK. Let’s see if he bounces back.

  11. Kimi is Kimi, and the fact that we had chance to see several different faces of the same driver in past 6 races is what Kimi is about …

    @Pink Peril – saying that he won last year in Melbourne in illegal car is not exactly accurate, but that has been discussed before :-)

  12. the limit said on 28th May 2008, 4:07

    Despite the result in Monaco, Raikkonen’s career is a much respected and admired one. To take over at McLaren, the seat of double champion Mika Hakkinen, in only his second season, was an unenviable task.
    He managed, in the space of five years, to see off both David Coulthard and Juan Pablo Montoya as team mates, and contend for two championships in 2003 and 2005.
    In 2005 especially, he had arguably the fastest car on the grid, but sadly one of the most fragile. With a little more luck on his side, he may well have caused Alonso some serious problems.
    His performance at Spa in 2004 stands out in my mind, with his superb battle with Michael Schumacher. The look on the German’s face said it all, he had been beaten fair and square, by a driver driving a lesser car than his own.
    His attitude and approach are polar opposites to Schumacher, or Senna, but his speed and talent are of the same calibre. Along with Alonso, he is the out and out fastest driver of his generation.
    In Brazil last year, whilst being asked about his feelings toward winning his first championship, he claimed that after ‘this, everything else I achieve will be a bonus’.
    For some unknown reason, I cannot see Raikkonen going on like Schumacher did and break all the records. He is not the same person, not the same mindset as Schumacher.
    Alonso I think is, but Raikkonen is not.
    This season is far from over, and nothing is cast in stone. He has the car, the nerve, and skill, to prevail.
    This sport needs people like Kimi, men who do everything that is asked of them, men who are true professionals and never, ‘EVER’ moan or winge in public or in the media.
    He is a class act, just as Alonso and Schumacher are and always will be, he just conducts himself in an altogether different way. He would be quite at home in the F1 of old, when drivers wore scarves and had only a bale of straw between them and the almighty.

  13. Ago said on 28th May 2008, 7:32

    Everything was said already.
    Kimi is really fast and Kimi doesn’t care about his image. Yes he is very much a driver of the 70′s when F1 was still a sport more than a business.
    Kimi never complains, Kimi never finds a river crossing the track in Monaco, Kimi never moans about anything. We might like it or not but denying his sheer speed is nonsense. A driver that was given a seat at both McLaren and Ferrari is a pure racer.
    Let’s just listen and watch him for he is so unique.
    Alonso is fantastic, Hamilton is amazing, Kimi is… Kimi !
    One day he will get out of the car,take his helmet off, then he will say “I’ve had enough, I’m leaving”. That can be anytime… so let’s enjoy every single race before that moment happens…
    Kimi is not what we want him to be. Thanks for that Kimi!

  14. Jolene said on 28th May 2008, 7:35

    Schumi was a champion and committed to the sport he loved and Kimi should never, ever be compared to him.I have maintained from day one that Kimi is not as good as everyone makes him out to be. Yes, he has good days but more often he has bad ones. He lacks “drive” and commitment. He treats a race like any other outing and looks bored, whether winning or loosing. That is so insulting to the other drivers who are driving their hearts and souls out. If he’s bored let him leave F1 to make place for someone who has the hunger, coz those are the ones who will make wonderful champions someday. Not someone who hardly says a word and looks as if he couldnt care less. My opinion only but watching and listening to Kimi almost makes me depressed.

  15. James said on 28th May 2008, 8:05

    I think Michael was committed entirely to himself. I don’t know where questions about Kimi’s commitment come from. He is certainly patchy in form but it’s impossible to judge his workload until someone at Ferrari says “Kimi doesn’t do much work.” I stand to be corrected, but I don’t think that has happened. He’s laconic and introspective. That doesn’t mean lazy or unproductive.

    Since the 90s long gone are the days of drivers buggering off to play golf after a test or practice session. I’d be surprised if Kimi isn’t with his engineers into the wee hours working on his data. If he just turned up and drove – these days – he would be nowhere.

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