It should have come as no surprise that a driver of Kimi Raikkonen’s capabilities would deliver the kind of performance he did in 2012.
On his return to the sport with a new team – one which hadn’t won a race in four seasons – he was the most consistent points-scorer of the year. After a couple of near-misses he delivered the win the team craved in Abu Dhabi.
This time 12 months ago there were questions over whether Raikkonen was up to it. His world championship triumph for Ferrari in 2007 had been followed by a couple of lacklustre seasons.
Even those close to him did not expect his return to competition in 2012. “I was more surprised about Kimi making a comeback than how he performed during the season,” said Toni Vilander, two-times FIA GT champion and a friend of Raikkonen’s.
“When he stopped, he was so fed up with Formula One and kept saying ‘never again’. I think it?óÔé¼Ôäós a good thing to have some distance away from everything and do something totally different, like rallying. That?óÔé¼Ôäós how your way of thinking changes and your approach gets stronger and stronger.”
In Raikkonen Lotus have a driver who can be relied upon to deliver race in, race out. “Kimi is Kimi,” says Vilander. “It doesn?óÔé¼Ôäót matter how different the cars, the tyres or the rules are, it takes only a couple of laps and he is straight away within a second of the top guys. That?óÔé¼Ôäós what he did at the beginning of the Lotus era, too.?óÔé¼?Ø
Lotus seem to have have discovered that giving Raikkonen more of the freedom he craves is the key to getting the best out of him.
It’s a significant departure from the norm in F1, which sometimes fails to distinguish between drivers and components. Plug them into cars and they’ll crank out fast laps, drop them into a press conference and they’ll dully recite the corporate line.
Like when he wanted to wear James Hunt’s helmet at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix – something his former teams wouldn’t countenance:
“The idea was there for many years, but with McLaren and Ferrari, there was no opportunity to use it,” explains his helmet design Uffe Tagtstrom. “Last year it was perfect and the feedback was great too.”
But striking a balance between indulging their driver’s individualism and holding him to the standards expected of a Formula One driver can lead to difficult decisions.
In Brazil Raikkonen decided not to show up at the track on Thursday, mainly a day of preparation and media work. That cost him three days later. Had he joined his rivals in inspecting the track he might have avoided his costly trip down a closed escape road during the race.
He will not be able to afford such a lapse in preparation if he’s still in the running for the title at Interlagos. And if the E21 launched yesterday delivers on Lotus’s expectations, there’s every chance he will be.
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Image ?é?® Lotus/LAT