Kimi Raikkonen and the romance at Spa Francorchamps
Circuits hold unique challenges
One of the most important things to note in Formula One world is the deep chemistry between F1 drivers and their favourite tracks! It is intriguing to note and fulfilling to observe as a fan that how some circuits extract the best out of certain drivers! Yet, it is very challenging to find out a particular driver who has ruled and fared extremely well in all the circuits.
Every racing track brings varying degrees of challenges and ensures that the very best in business cannot escape before conjuring a great battle. Challenging corners, difficult apex curves and not the smoothest of hairpins, F1 circuits bring all this into a complete chaotic package to carve out a meaty contest on the race day and it is thrilling to note that how some can manoeuvre these riddles to capture glory.
The best of most difficult in today's racing tracks
We all have our favourite F1 tracks, which we love for some peculiar qualities they hold over others. Some cannot think beyond Monza: the home of Ferrari, the Maranello based outfit as being the best track owing to its popular appeal and the nickname "Cathedral of Speed". It imposes a staunch challenge to all to master the Parabolica. Schumacher came closest to being a pro here while Vettel hasn't lagged too far behind.
Others consider Silverstone in England as one of the best owing to its not so polished offering to the stars as almost every race unfolding here has provided unpredictable results often leaving winners surprised with what they have achieved. Once you are consistent in your car handling here, you can be sure of the track bringing you closer to the top of the podium.
Ask Hamilton post British GP, 2014. But think of difficult, and you cannot shy away from bringing Japan's Suzuka circuit into picture. The slightly oddly appearing but appropriately named 130R remains one of the toughest corners to master in the modern day competition. Some of F1's best have claimed their brightest victories owing to their efficient car handling of this really fast corner that has seen drivers speed up to 305 k/hr here. Picture Alonso in 2005.
Then there's the undeniable challenge lying at the hairpin at Monaco. Who would have thought that Adrian Sutil would pass an imposing Fernando Alonso here in 2013 when the Spaniard was caught somewhat napping in the middle of the race at this part of the track? The end result wasn't too favourable for Ferrari's top driver.
Some parts of a racing circuit may not look intimidating at all but can be very surprising indeed. If we look into the past, then no true supporter of the sport can ever forgive the Tamburello corner at Imola circuit, a track that has long been discontinued by FIA. It didn't help F1's most admired driver. Even at racing speed, this wasn't a corner that looked any threatening but the events on May 1, 1994 didn't favour Ayrton Senna at all. But that is the way the sport is and our racers have to be lauded for their skilled prowess at handling unfriendly and difficult circuits.
Be it the subtle challenges contained in the Yas Marina circuit at Abu Dhabi, the sterling competition served at Singapore, the unsparing drive that Brazil's Interlagos caters to all or the nearly impossible to overtake Monaco street circuit, you cannot find one driver that has consistently performed well in all of these, edging his foes when it comes to garnering maximum points. Yes, some may have won every now and again on these surfaces but are they really the pro's of these tracks?
We may argue endlessly into the night holding on to a particular driver who we think has nearly mastered a particular track, but the end result of hailing someone, as a master must always be based on incisive reasoning and something else! Our Numero Uno lad should have a record that speaks for himself rather the other way around.
Kimi: the King of Spa
Leaving arguments aside and keeping personal favourites at bay, there is but one driver who by virtue of his consistent performances at a particular track, seems to have emerged a clear winner of the debate "can a driver truly master a Formula One track" and the idea that " mastering racing tracks" isn't after all wishful thinking.
Well, if you sport light eyes, possess calm demeanour and af ire to drive then being Kimi Matias Raikkonen at certain Spa Francorchamps in Belgium really helps. It serves not just a relishing drive for all fans watching but dethrones the gumption that no particular driver has come to truly "own" a circuit by means of stamping his authority against its name. In the 206 Grand Prix's that he has entered since the start of his career, some of his biggest triumphs have come at the Belgian Grand Prix'.
If Formula One is the most enigmatic sporting competition in the world, then Kimi's outings at the Belgian circuit, F1's joie de vivre, have been "Tour De Force". What many regard as being a difficult challenge owing mostly to the subtle variations at corners and a gripping track layout, Kimi considershis special love. Their’s is one of a kind romance. Up to this point, his on-track performances at Belgium, have been incredible and speak of Kimi Raikkonen’s consistency to outwit rivals in a track as challenging as this.
Kimi and Spa Francorchamps: a romance in numbers
Spa is amongst the most beautiful tracks in the chequered marquee of Formula One racing tracks. It almost always thrills in its 44 lap long contests and assures the triumph of only the best driver in a competition. With a track length of 7 km being 7.0001 to be precise, this has 19 daunting and often implausible to comprehend turns.
While this circuit has catapulted the legend of some racing drivers, it has also left some confused owing to its trickiness. In his 9 outings at Belgium, Kimi has won on 4 occasions, ruling the wet conditions with some style. Fans regard the Iceman’s races here as being equivalent of a king’s homecoming, for kings are hailed as unputdownable on their own turf. History reveals that some of his best drives have indeed come at Spa Francorchamps, also regarded among his favourite tracks. His first victory here was in 2004 when he won for Mclaren. His race was marked by true grit of a genius driver in making, who had the hunger to win.
Lacking in any sizeable triumphs in that dull 2004 season, this was to be his and his team's only race win, such would be its importance. But moving ahead from that time, Kimi's outings at Spa in near future would be one that would effectively capture this track as being his favourite hunting ground and keep fans glued to the television sets wherever they were.
He raced for Mclaren till the end of 2006 season but didn't leave before driving another great race during his win here in 2005. He registered a memorable win thanks to a capable car and some great competition that made winning his only obvious choice. In a track that is known to bring out the best from capable racers, battling against the likes of Button, Schumacher, Alonso and Massa here has never been easy.
They have all featured in more race appearances at Belgium but only Kimi has remained Spa's effervescent king. This is off course not to belittle Schumi's brilliant record of 6 wins on the same track. But let it be known that our man here has never been an average knight.
There is something about this track that strokes the inner genius of Kimi Raikkonen. The two of the other prized wins for the Iceman came during his tremendously successful stint at Ferrari. From 2007- 2009, driving in a pretty average car but one developed by the richest team in Motorsport history, with the only exception being his 2007 Championship winning prancing horse, Kimi never really had the arsenal that he needed to triumph during his time at Ferrari.
But, Raikkonen was always ethereal whenever he visited this track. During his championship winning season of 2007, he not only set the fastest lap here but claimed one of his best race wins at Spa, a track which by now had become a motion picture gallery in the astute brain of this cool driver.
The many wonderful facets of Spa Francorchamps
Kimi's handling of the Eu Rouge corner since 2007 has come to be described by one word: sheer brilliance. While some have made grave errors here and some have crashed out, Kimi's taming of Spa has much to do with his car handling at this tricky corner. It doesn't provide you with too much of a space to overtake and only when a driver holds the racing line can he be guaranteed success. And Kimi has polished this puzzle with aplomb. In a race that can extract the last bit that a driver has to give, Kimi has rarely faltered at the track’s challenging spot.
Most of us who are witness to the green landscape surrounding this lush and breathtakingly beautiful track would notice that Raikkonen's passing of Schumacher at Eu Rouge in 2012 has been described as one of the best overtaking manoeuvres since the Finn’s comeback into the motorsport. In 2012 he delt bravely with the 7 time world champion and eventually passed him with supreme skills in his Lotus E20 but couldn't supersede Button or Vettel who were albeit racing in faster cars than Raikkonen's mediocre Lotus.
While Raikkonen's car handling has been consistently steady, the racing track has ensured that it demands nothing but the best from the Finn with him having to carefully balance breaking and the throttle in order to accomplish his victories.
In 2009, he was once again threatening at his favourite track, collecting the much needed win for Ferrari while posing a daunting challenge to rivals like Alonso, Hamilton and Fiscichella. Two of the last would be victims of Raikkonen's sheer pace at Eu Rouge corner in a gripping race where he relied as much on Ferrari's KERS advantage as on his own awareness of this beautiful track. The fashion in which he passed Lewis's Mclaren and overtook Giancarlo from Sahara Force India moved his critics to the point of disbelief having earlier remarked that the Finn couldn’t work the same magic at Spa as was attributed to him earlier. That brilliant drive would become one of the hightlights of the 2009 season, Spa once again proving to be the vital cog in the success of the enigmatic Finn.
But let us speed ahead to the present. Last week Kimi returned to his favourite track here at Belgium and the results were there for all to see. He didn't collect a podium finish but the very fact that he reached his season best 4th finish at Spa Francorchamps has less to do with the rumours surrounding the notion that "Kimi is past his best" and more to do with the ever-lasting love between a great racer and his muse. They always seem to complement each other, knitting a bond that trancends time, faltering the bias attached with the abilities of Raikkonen to strike glory here at Spa and in turn, this brings fans to a point where they look upto Kimi in pure awe.
He remained consistently ahead of his teammate Alonso who was seen struggling amidst a bunch of rookies and so called veterans and it would only be the 40th of the 44th lap where Raikkonen’s less than average Ferrari would be overtaken by Bottas' Williams.
While Kimi may not be racing in a car that gives his giant talent potent speed, often beseiged by the lack of straight line speed, a strength on which teams like Mercedes and Red Bull have based frequent victories, all may not be lost for fans as there is still a round to go in 2015. Next year the monosyllabic champ will once again return to his favorite playground to hopefully move his backers to the edge of their seats in what may sadly be his last appearence at the pinnacle of motorsport, if rumors are to be believed. In what may be an eye fest for Ferrari lovers can also be an equivalent to another rise shock to his haters if he succeeds again. But, for now- thank you Spa for giving us the elevation we need and gratitude to the Icy cool Raikkonen for being it’s undisputed king