Is Kimi Raikkonen The Right Man?
This weekend, the media cooled on the Kimi Raikkonen to Williams rumours – Raikonnen-Renault becoming the new flavour of the month and sure enough, this morning the Finn was confirmed as a Renault, or Lotus as it will be, driver next year. I actually thought Raikkonen was the wrong man for Williams as they try to pick up the team from a terrible season, anyway. However, with Renault suffering a similarly turbulent second half of the year, I wonder if the same will be in store for Lotus next year.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Kimi Raikkonen is an incredibly talented driver. His speed is undeniable and breathtaking to watch when he’s really on it. Nor do I think he’ll lack motivation even if just 12 months ago, Renault GP’s Eric Boullier said that “it doesn’t make sense to hire somebody, even a former world champion, if you cannot be sure that his motivation is still 100%.” Far from it – maybe his motivation might even be the problem. I could easily and happily see him fitting into one of the top four teams but he strikes me as the wrong guy to invigorate a team in the doldrums.
My main issue with him joining Williams was that I simply didn’t see him as the driver to push the team forward and up the grid. Previously it was clear that Raikkonen wasn’t the sort of driver to come back and just drive for anybody. However, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren have their line-ups, and even a seemingly unlikely return to Ferrari sees his former team mate in the way. In the mean time, time marches on and the longer he was away from F1, the more his value dropped. Hence teams that appeared unattractive a year ago are a different proposition now – and yet ultimately they remain a stepping stone to a more competitive ride and there-in lies the problem. Will Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber still be at their respective teams in 2013? If not and Raikkonen jumped ship, where would that have left Williams’ plans? After all, it’s unlikely that they’re going to dig themselves out of their situation in the space of one winter, despite the hopes of some that a switch to Renault-power will provide the cure-all.
Renault, or Lotus as it will be, find themselves in a similar situation as they head back to the drawing board. Zero progress in developing the car was made after heading up the garden path with the forward facing exhaust concept. While there are changes to the regulations next year, they’re not dramatic enough to suggest that many of the lessons their rivals learned over the season will not leave the team on the back foot. It means going back to the 2010 car for inspiration – and that featured blown floors and an f-duct as its headline developments. It’s reported to be a two-year contract but we know contracts can be bought out even if the second year doesn’t include get-out clauses. That said, the situation isn’t as dark as that down at Williams, it is certainly possible that the team could turn around sufficiently to keep the Finn interested beyond next year, so why not?
Unfortunately, Raikkonen has now had two years away from Formula One and in the interim, Pirelli tyres and DRS have changed the game. The same changes may be the influencing factor in persuading the Finn that F1 can be fun again but he’s going to have enough work to do catching up with the sport, never mind pushing the team onwards and upwards. Michael Schumacher took a long time to bed back in to the sport, and his motivation and preparation is second to none. Crucially though, Mercedes GP had the experienced Nico Rosberg as well. Can Vitaly Petrov fulfill that role alongside Raikkonen? It’s certainly unlikely that Romain Grosjean could be expected to.
Lotus really need an experienced AND up-to-date driver to replace Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso if they’re serious about competing for regular podiums. And on the basis of the team’s previous philosophy. they also need a leader and while Kimi may be many things on the track, he’s never really been one to drive on a team as Schumacher or Alonso do. Kubica was building such a relationship at Renault until his accident. Raikkonen though? He’s always been more of a ‘give me a car and I’ll drive it as fast as I can’ kind of guy. It’s why he fit in at McLaren and its why Ferrari eventually paid him off.
I’m sure Kimi Raikkonen would be motivated to keep trundling around down the grid with a team like Williams or Lotus Renault. It’s whether that motivation is to improve their lot or just to get in shape for a better ride that’s really open to debate. Maybe that won’t even matter if, and it’s a big if, Kubica returns.
In the meantime, Raikkonen will be out to prove a point. It should be entertaining if nothing else.
Credit: Lotus Renault GP