Kimi Raikkonen is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and intriguing characters on the race track.
Race after race, he does something which somehow manages to capture public imagination, global sports headlines or both. The Raikkonen phenomenon can strangely never isolate itself from a long history of rumors, a facet that has underlined his checkered racing career that is marked with over 70 podium finishes and 20 race wins.
Now into his 14th Formula One season and running in what we may call quite possibly his last professional F1 season driving for the revered Ferrari, the rumours are again at Kimi's door.
They say this time it may actually be fatal for the Finn's career unless Team Boss Maurizio Arrivabene decides to hold on to the Iceman. Raikkonen has been battling on track, fighting hard to hold on to his seat. Although he has been giving a tough fight to teammate Vettel from the standpoint of pure racing speed, one thing can be said for certain: Raikkonen’s speed has not deserted him.
Nor has his popularity taken a beating. In the recently concluded poll for Formula One's most well-liked driver, Raikkonen was voted as the most popular and enigmatic star out on the track, beating the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso; if not in the race, then in votes.
Driving the SF15T
When asked about the current Ferrari during pre testing at Jerez this year, Raikkonen remarked in his typically laidback style "it looks pretty good". Never one to trade his tacit responses in surge for engineering long answers, Raikkonen simply smiled and seemed happy with the new glowing, upgraded version of the Ferrari, a seemingly vast improved version of the dead rubber SF 14T.
He noted a different nose and front end to the dynamically packaged Ferrari. In typical Kimi fashion, he said that although it didn't look too different from the dampener of last year, the side package at the new speedster would help create more down-force, something he has always preferred.
Not one to give self invented answers, Kimi was happy with the slightly increased space the new Ferrari allowed. It has to be stated the speedwagon Raikkonen drives today runs the same suspension as the Mercedes car, if one notes the race leader Mercedes' geometry.
Though nothing has changed with the diffuser at the rear being covered up, which is also the case with the 2015 Torro Rosso, the presence of as many as 6 wing cuts has greatly helped in providing downforce at the rear. This also gives the flying Finn the extra speed he needs.
Raikkonen was recently pushed down to 5th in the drivers’ standings by Williams' Valtteri Bottas, who has upstaged him by a painful 1-point lead. Bottas now stands at 4th.
The older Finn now has a car that is close to his expectations. With the SF15T he still has a chance to regain the trust and faith of his team, which looks marginally keen to retain him yet still encouraging him at every race even as it relentlessly looks out of the Ferrari garage in a bid to attract fresh talent to Maranello's workshop.
Where does Kimi stand now?
Though he stands adrift of double world champion from Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, and his own Ferrari teammate Vettel by a distant margin, his current 5th ranking on the overall driver race chart is a great relief from a bad 2014 season.
While he is yet to win a race this season, he looks to be in some control of his race performance unless luck runs out on him as it already has on two or more occasions. Rumors in the Ferrari garage say he is playing second fiddle to Vettel, clearly the team's leading driver, but if race engineer and Ferrari's technical director and head of design James Allison are to be believed, Raikkonen remains as driven and motivated to succeed as he was when he started.
Although he did not finish the race at Hungary, the last before the mid-season break Raikkonen's race start was nothing less than thunderous or sparkling. It indicated he had not just the right mind-frame but also the speed needed to win or take charge of his own race.
Driving that car in 2014 that literally deprived Raikkonen fans of any possible race magic and the Finn himself of any speed for sizeable race recovery, while he finished the 2014 season way behind Alonso on 12, he now stands firmly but amidst much debate and those steadfast rumors at 5.
The title of Flying Finn under threat
Unlike Alonso's adaptability and consistency, which Raikkonen may not possess, fans and racing enthusiasts still expect the racer to bring home points with another 9 races to go.
The title of flying Finn shone brightly on Mika Hakkinen, another Finnish racing legend. It wasn't until Raikkonen’s arrival on F1's big stage that the title soon came to rest on his able shoulders.
With his calm mind and icy cool persona, Raikkonen showed signs of great maturity from the word go.
Recently, Raikkonen’s compatriot Valtteri Bottas has made waves with his sparkling show from Williams' stable, matching Raikkonen's race speed. Bottas has even locked horns in big stage battles with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and double world champion Fernando Alonso.
Formula One pundits and analysts are now favouring the new Finnish star. While Bottas remains silent and determined to let his driving do the talking, a style which is typically reminiscent of the reticent Raikkonen, comparisons are already being drawn between the Finns.
Rrumors have continued to play their grand part in igniting mind games and mental battles with some actually believing that just as Kimi takes to his car for the upcoming battle at Spa Francorchamps, Bottas has already been allotted a Ferrari seat for the 2016 season.