I won a bet last sunday. No, it wasn’t whether there’ll be a Bahrain GP or not. It wasn’t even whether Caterham can ever make it to Q2. It was whether Raikkonen will manage a podium in his comeback season. Afterall, Michael Schumacher, the last big comeback man, hadn’t exactly set the road on fire on his return. But was I happy to see that the Iceman surely get onto the podium last Sunday.
During his last season at Ferrari, there was often the criticism that Kimi goes to sleep in the midfield, and only if there’s a shot at glory does he show interest. He lost his championship that year, and maybe even the desire to continue racing in F1. Three seasons of rallying seem to have stoked the fire just right. We’ve seen ample evidence of the old determined racer still being very much at large within the laid back exterior. Just looking at the performances so far this season, it right there to be seen. Raikkonen has been making places on the track, reeling opponents in and passing them instead of relying only on tyre and pit stop strategy. Come to think of it, so has Alonso but this is a piece about Kimi so we’ll keep it simple.
Kimi has had midfield starts in three out of four races. In every race, he’s shown pace and resolve to make his way ahead. Australia was a coming-to-grips run from P17 to P7, Malaysia a consolidation from P11 to P5. China was Raikkonen’s best qualifying performance this season. Starting fro P4, he was looking strong for a podium, but two laps too many on worn tyres saw him drop from P2 to P12. Coming off that botch-up, Bahrain was that much more impressive. Qualifying wasn’t as good as it should’ve been, but converting a P11 start to a very real challenge for the race win, on track takes some doing. It was almost nostalgic for a fan like me to see Kimi make places on track, and eventually go wheel to wheel for the lead. Looking at 34 points from 4 races, for a driver racing for a midfield team, it’s a pretty good start to the season.
Raikkonen’s choice of a comeback vehicle has also seemed to work out pretty well. The Lotus does look like it has a decent package to build on. Romain Grosjean‘s pace in the second Lotus may have come as a surprise to quite a few, but that just cements the belief about the Lotus being a solid package. Grosjean has been very impressive. Specially in qualifying. If he can keep finishing races, it’ll probably be the difference between finishing 4th and finishing 7th in the constructors’ championship for Lotus. Now, a lot will depend on whether the team can keep up with the pace of development, given its limited resources. Exploring a “double DRS” a la Mercedes GP certainly sounds like the right idea.
For the sake of a prospect of some more “the Iceman cometh” moments, lets hope the team can do just enough to stay competitive.