Why Kimi Raikkonen's Revival is good for Ferrari and F1
Kimi Raikkonen remains to date, the last Ferrari driver to win the Driver’s World Championship back in 2007. So naturally, when it was announced that the Finn had been signed by Ferrari again in 2014, on the back of an impressive return to the sport with Lotus, there was a certain level of expectation amongst Ferrari fans that in combination with Fernando Alonso, Ferrari could return to the glory days of yore. Suffice to say, things have gone far from plan.
A combination of factors was responsible for Raikkonen’s underwhelming displays over the last 4 years. Ferrari, in general, had a car which struggled to compete with Mercedes in the hybrid era, but for Raikkonen specifically, who was always in the shadow of Alonso first, and Vettel later, the car was never tailored to suit his driving style which did him no favours.
In addition to his advancing age which was responsible for him losing some of his natural speed, Raikkonen was always a distinct number two at the team.
Speculation was rife midway through last season as he struggled, while Vettel competed for the driver’s title, that Ferrari would replace him at the end of the season, but a strong second half of the season ensured that Ferrari extended his contract for another year at least.
2018, however, has been a completely different story. With the wolves snapping at his door, this has been by far the best start to a season that Raikkonen has made since he returned to Ferrari. In a car that has emerged as the quickest on the grid, Raikkonen has displayed a level of pace that had been missing in previous years.
He has looked much more comfortable in the 2018 car and has adjusted to it much faster than Vettel. He has been dialed in and had a distinct upper hand over Vettel in Friday practice and should have taken pole in China and last time out in Baku had it not been for mistakes in the final sector.
Raikkonen still put the Ferrari on the front row in three out of the four rounds this year. In Australia, had it not been for the timing of the safety car, he would have beaten Vettel and had Ferrari not botched a pit stop in Bahrain, he should have had four podiums from four races.
Currently lying in third in the driver’s championship, Raikkonen’s performances have been vital in keeping Ferrari just ahead of Mercedes in the constructor’s championship. He has been very competitive in relation to the Silver Arrows and his speed has opened up various options for Ferrari with regards strategy in race.
Ferrari have been able to control races with Vettel and Raikkonen up top, often using Raikkonen to react to strategy calls made by other front-runners. One could say that scuppering Raikkonen’s hopes for race victory in order to aid Vettel this early in the season is unfair to Raikkonen, but the pecking order has always been pretty clear at Ferrari; and while strategy calls like those in China, where Raikkonen lost around 16 seconds in a bid to hold up Bottas, almost ended up ruining a good points haul for the team, as long as Ferrari are getting away with such calls, do not expect things to change anytime soon.
At the end of the day, Ferrari are in with a proper chance of beating Mercedes and Red Bull to the constructor’s title and one suspects that Raikkonen is just focussed on the job at hand and would not pay much attention to the noise surrounding the team. He has been and will be crucial to their chances going forward.
A Boost for the Sport
Looking at the larger picture, Raikkonen’s resurgence bodes well for the sport as a whole. Mercedes’ domination for the past 4 years had raised quite a few concerns as to the level of competitiveness in the sport and how it could be detrimental in attracting new viewers to the sport.
Vettel’s lone bid for the title and the Red Bull drivers winning a couple of races last season was not enough to slow the Mercedes juggernaut, but with Raikkonen’s emergence this season, it has become clear that for the first time in the hybrid era Mercedes might not have the best car on the grid and the openness in the competition has been reflected with the 2018 season already enjoying three thrilling races in Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan.
Another aspect to consider will be the increased fan interest Raikkonen’s performances could bring to the sport. Raikkonen has never been the most social of drivers and does the bare minimum when it comes to media engagements, yet the fans have lapped it up.
Combined with his stoic demeanour and Raikkonen has managed to develop an almost cult-like fan base in the sport, all of whom would love to see the Finn start winning races again and possibly mount a title challenge. Ferrari too are arguably the most storied and popular constructor on the grid, and their doing well is sure to generate more interest in the sport and attract more casual observers.
The 2018 season might still be in its infancy, but four races in and a number of interesting storylines have come to the fore, not least of which is Raikkonen’s display. In a season that is shaping up to be one for the ages, here is hoping Raikkonen and Ferrari continue their good show and give us a truly competitive show.