Kimi Raikkonen, F1's most polarised driver, proves he's still got it!
Many moons ago when Kimi Raikkonen crossed the checkered flag at the salubrious Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, not before asking to be left alone "for he knew what he was doing," he nearly added a million and a half fans for his stellar drive.
Not since the 1980s had a Lotus won a Grand Prix. Kimi, in his returning season, clinched them a vital glory.
His supreme self-confidence despite driving a significantly wearier machine when compared to a charging Alonso in a Ferrari demonstrated Raikkonen's drive for success.
Aided by luck following Hamilton's retirement, Kimi got the hang of the race in the middle stages and didn't allow the Red Bulls or the Ferraris to dominate.
Leave me alone- Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2012
On 4 November 2012, the Iceman had kept his cool in the heat of the desert and completed a record-breaking drive.
He'd immediately enter the next F1 race, the season-opener at Melbourne and put his Renault-Lotus right on top at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. In so doing, 'The Iceman' proved his Abu Dhabi triumph was no flash in the pan.
But ever since returning to Ferrari, the marquee responsible for his famous 2007 triumph, Raikkonen's performances would undergo a sudden change in fortunes. In a year where the Raikkonen and Alonso pairing was to have produced fireworks, this being a melange of "fire and ice", it was only the Spaniard who managed to salvage some pride in arguably Ferrari's worst run in a long time.
To Alonso's 161, Raikkonen's 55 points in the 2014 season indicated a dry run. This was truncated by an immense loss of speed with the Finnish driver's woes exacerbated by a loose front end that didn't suit his natural style.
What perplexed fans the most, it could be argued, would be to bear with the scenario of Raikkonen going an entire year without a podium. Of his current 98 podium finishes, none came in 2014.
Who would've believed it? But the best Kimi would manage would be a lackluster P4 at Spa-Francorchamps at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
The verdict, even before racing gazettes and media outlets would quote, was out there.
"Kimi has lost it"
Then, interestingly, right before the start of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Kimi was asked if he and "Ferrari could bounce back" the next year, to which he unhesitatingly replied with an affirmative, "yes!" Now whether that was true for real or not can still be debated endlessly. But one can be sure that Raikkonen would have as less an interest in entertaining such notions as he would now. That sentiment united fans with Kimi's critics.
Partnering good friend Sebastian Vettel, Raikkonen, experiencing a sudden spike in form, the aero package more suited to his front-heavy style, grabbed 3 podiums.
Then what did we see in the 2015 season?
Before entering Sakhir in 2015, Raikkonen had last been on a podium in his black and yellow liveried Lotus-Renault at the Korean Grand Prix. He would finish second at the desert emirate and end a 27-race podium drought.
But while that may not have done a great deal to revive his hitherto-waning fortunes, it wouldn't hurt one bit to finish fourth in the driver's standings.
The die-hard Raikkonen admirer for whom Formula 1 is as beautiful as Helsinki's ethereal monuments and the laidback lunge in a spa retreat, a P4 on the driver's standings was any day better than the ignominy of the previous season.
The 2016 and 2017 seasons indicated Raikkonen was on the verge of a massive improvement. Despite gathering 4 podiums in 2016, he never seemed in sight of a win, which he's still searching for.
Having said that, Raikkonen would come mighty close to gaining his maiden triumph ever since returning to the Scuderia (in 2014) at the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix.
His imperious qualifying run, resulting in a pole, his first since 2009, was destined to garner him a likely win at the fashionable Principality of Monte Carlo. This is exactly when it would all be ruined, Kimi called into the pits by Lap 34, in a move completely unbeknownst to the Finn.
Finishing second-placed behind Sebastian Vettel produced a driver on the podium that cut a sorry figure and understandably so. It could be said never before would the champagne have tasted so pale or pungent to a man who hardly wastes a drop of it.
Was this the saddest P2 finish at Monaco ever- we don't know.
But what one does know, in fact, is that Raikkonen went from strength to strength thereafter.
In collecting 7 podiums overall from 2017, not only did Kimi enjoy titanic duels with Ricciardo and Peres, Verstappen and Hamilton throughout the year, but he kept improving race after race.
Despite the elusive win denting his Scuderia resume, Raikkonen kept up his game through sheer raw pace. At Australia and Russia, he'd set the fastest laps, consolidating his position as amongst the fastest men on the grid.
But it's uncertain whether his naysayers, among them Martin Brundle, would've been stunned by the spectacle of a blisteringly quick 1:26:538 at Melbourne, followed by a 1:36:844 at Sochi?
The phlegmatic Finn, renowned for with his monk-like abstinence from bothering about what others said, kept up his form. His hat-trick of podiums starting from USA, Mexico, and Brazil would yield a productive year that saw the Kimster gathering 7 finishes on the podium.
At the conclusion, a vastly-improved Raikkonen was still chided for his winless run for Ferrari.
That said, his consistent runs starting 2016 ensured that he'd earn another year to race for the most successful if not the most enterprising team in the pinnacle of motor-racing.
So how do we judge Kimi Raikkonen now?
We are now halfway through the 2018 season and the focus once again is on Kimi Matias Raikkonen.
Never before has the clatter and chatter surrounding the Ferrari driver's chances of staying at the team for another year been louder and polarised.
The same Kimi Raikkonen- loved universally for his no-nonsense attitude and for monosyllabic replies- is being hounded.
That his seat for the next year is poised to go to Sauber's Charles Leclerc is something everyone expects and is perhaps hoping for.
Can the Kimi dilemma get any worse?
But where stats stand, then, it ought to be said that Raikkonen's back to doing what he does best- going fast in the car.
It took him 20 races to get 7 podiums the previous season. What's he done now?
From 11 races so far, Ferrari's "number two" driver has already bagged 7 podiums.
Never before has he seemed quicker and more confident of his abilities than in the present moment. His moves may not have been illustrious or formidable enough to warrant him a win but his strong races at France, Spielberg, Silverstone, and Hockenheim have shown us what a quick Kimi can do in a powerful car.
There's hardly a doubt about the SF-70H being a formidable machine. There are fewer doubts about Raikkonen's menacing speed either. But while the future reserves the answer whether Kimi would last another year or not, what's easy to spot is that he's still got what it takes to fight hard for wins.
Can a winless Iceman turn around his fortunes by the end of this year?
For starters, Raikkonen would enter the Hungaroring believing the best. Another strong race would be the best tribute to the late Sergio Marchionne.
After all, it was here that he managed a brilliant and fighting second, right behind Vettel last year.
Lights out and away we go!