Delivery time for Kimi

Judgement Day looms for Kimi Räikkönen, who endured another wanting outcome at Monaco, a consequence of once again leaving much to be desired on a Saturday.

Having lined up sixth, the 2007 World Champion crossed the finish line in the same position, coming off second best in a barging of wheels with Daniel Ricciardo during the closing stages of an ultimately controversial afternoon.

Despite the Finn’s share of misfortune this campaign, he had accumulated more points than he managed across his dismal 2014 season by the conclusion of the Monaco weekend. Yet the notion stands that he has failed to deliver when a driver’s best lap of their weekend is expected – during the final segment of qualifying.

Räikkönen has started no higher than fourth on the grid following six events, and has yet to outqualify Sebastian Vettel – who has already made the Maranello outfit his own following his departure from the Red Bull dynasty.

It would be remiss not to mention his storming drive to second at Bahrain, though aided heavily due to a Vettel removed from the picture due to his front-wing change. Even so, this performance runs the gauntlet of being dismissed as an aberration, unless he can correct the Saturday conundrum.

Rising 36, it is understandable that the raw edge which the Finn possessed a decade ago can no longer be expected, though not to the degree where he concedes two or three positions to his team-mate on the grid, in the a package which is evidently the best of the rest.

When one glances at MotoGP, Valentino Rossi, at 36, is similarly mired in his own Saturday blues despite his upturn in form across the past two seasons. The Italian has been vastly more competitive, with podiums commonplace.

Yet the reality is that cleaner performances during qualifying would undoubtedly be commensurate with further victories than the four he has achieved during this time frame. The age similarities between the former champions lends itself to the theory that no matter how great, the passing of time isn’t without effect.

Räikkönen hasn’t sat on pole position since the French Grand Prix in 2008, but as long as Vettel isn’t achieving this – which is unlikely considering Mercedes decisive advantage throughout past seasons, nobody expects him to either. Conversely, lining up on the second row is a non-negotiable. That it has seldom been occupied by Räikkönen in 2015 is concerning.

This deficiency doesn’t represent grounds for dismissal, with the twelve-month option enactment still the preferred path for Ferrari, but it remains that he must make significant inroads on this front prior to the mid-season break.

If there’s a circuit which could provide another  victory, it’s Spa-Francorchamps – the first event once the circus reconvenes in August. Indeed, his most recent Ferrari victory came at the venue in 2009, whilst the best outcome of his nightmare 2014 campaign was delivered here.

But none of this is possible unless the Finn unearths the maximum potential on a Saturday, which will make his life infinitely easier during the races, when it has to be said, he isn’t doing too much wrong.

A Ferrari power unit upgrade in the vicinity of 30 bhp for this weekend should be more than adequate for the Iceman to deliver on arguably the most important lap of his weekend. Failure to do so will only leave further questions regarding his ability to place himself in a position where success on Sunday is the simple matter of a clean getaway, rather than the will-he or won’t-he conundrum of the midfield.

It’s an oft repeated phrase than Formula One is better for Räikkönen’s presence, but it would be something else for the Finn to be causing consternation for those ahead on a Saturday evening, not when it’s all too late.

Advertisements

When will the Iceman cometh?

Kimi Räikkönen consummated his maiden campaign at Ferrari with a World Championship.

When the Finn was unceremoniously ousted just two years later, nobody could have envisaged he’d ever drive another red car.

Fast-forward five seasons, this is exactly what has transpired, with Räikkönen returning to the prancing horse stable, alongside the man who replaced him, Fernando Alonso.

But the second engagement between Räikkönen and Ferrari hasn’t been a happy one.

Räikkönen has amassed barely a quarter of team-mate Alonso’s tally, a pair of seventh places as good as things have got after seven events.

There is no doubting the F14T is a flawed piece of machinery, with just one podium courtesy of Alonso’s third place at China – this coming days after team principal Stefano Domenicali fell on his sword, to display for the immensely proud outfit.

Yet the Spaniard has regularly come home in the top six, and sits fourth in the standings notwithstanding his struggles.

Promising signs early at Monaco aside, where he ran as high as third until a puncture cruelled his charge, Räikkönen has endured an anonymous campaign.

What is it then, which has left the Iceman wanting?

It would be easy to nominate the new environment which accompanies a change of outfit, but then, it is hard to say that when he’d previously been there for three seasons, with a lot of personnel intact.

That Alonso moulded the team around his desires upon arrival in 2010, leaving little room for those not party to the regime, could be offered. But Räikkönen is a unique individual, he doesn’t acquiesce to the norm, it’s never been in his nature, and Ferrari knew this, so this theory is nullified.

His fury following the Spanish Grand Prix, where he was switched to a three-stop strategy, enabling Alonso to gain position, is proof that he isn’t content with being an admirable number-two driver.

It was a result of the strained relations between the Spaniard and president Luca di Montezemolo last season – borne from frustration at a prolonged string of title near-misses and descent towards mediocrity, which served as the primary catalyst in Räikkönen’s return.

His appointment was as much to remind Alonso who was running the show, as it was in hiring a driver of the Finn’s calibre. When one recalls di Montezemolo’s “two roosters in the one henhouse” philosophy, this mindset was forgotten once the Italian decided Alonso – with all of his samurai preaching tweets, was growing bigger than the team.

Back to Räikkönen, and he puts his meagre return to date down to sheer misfortune.

It is apparent that Räikkönen has struggled with the handling of the F14T, as evidenced by his uncharacteristic spin at Canada. Perhaps it is the case that the Finn simply doesn’t suit the nuances posed by the turbo-era cars and is still adapting. Even Sebastian Vettel has documented his struggles with the new style, and his car is infinitely more competitive than the Ferrari.

Whilst top five and occasional podium appearances from the Finn would be expected as the season progresses, not least at circuits he excels at – Spa and Suzuka coming straight to mind, barring some catastrophe where he falls even further down the field, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt for the balance of the campaign given the limited package at his disposal.

If the form witnessed so far were to continue into the early stages of 2015, then would be the time to ask serious questions.

You don’t win 20 Grands Prix and a World Championship without possessing something extra.

With a solid but by no means world beating Lotus, he enjoyed victories, regular podiums and top-three finishes in the standings (he was placed third when pulled the pin on his 2013 campaign to undergo back surgery, having not been paid for some time).

The fact remains that Räikkönen is the last Ferrari driver to claim a title, something which must rankle with Alonso, try as he might to deliver.

If the right elements fall into place, there’s no doubting that Räikkönen can again be a winner, and hopefully something more, we just need to be patient.