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Is Kimi Raikkonen The Right Man?

By Mav | 29 Nov 2011 | 12 Comments | 2,998 views

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.
 
Lotus Renault GP
 
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.

“It was an easy choice to return with Lotus Renault GP as I have been impressed by the scope of the team’s ambition. Now I’m looking forward to playing an important role in pushing the team to the very front of the grid.”

Kimi Raikkonen

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

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12 Comments »

  • Lucky777

    Totally agree. Kimi can match Vettel or any of the top drivers I’m sure and this is a great step forward for Kimi but I don’t think it’s a great move for Lotus Renault. They seem to think they need a star name when they actually need a solid car. Bahar’s influence maybe – style over substance.

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  • Kimster

    He never lacked motivation in the first place. He didn’t leave because of motivation, he left because of financial reasons.

    By invigorate a team, what do you mean?

    Kimi HATED control durable tyres. I have a feeling he will enjoy the Pirelli’s more, but that’s just a hunch.

    By building a relationship with Renault, what do you mean?

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  • Mav (author)

    He didn’t leave because of motivation, he left because of financial reasons.

    He left because Ferrari didn’t want him.

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  • Mav (author)

    By building a relationship with Renault, what do you mean?

    Ferrari never suited Kimi. A hangover from the Schumacher era is that they need a driver who quite selfishly pushes the team for his own benefit – that’s fine because the team do well out of it. It’s no criticism of Schumacher or now Alonso, it’s an approach that works. There is some truth to sixth tenths even if the actual number is clearly just picked out of the air. Kimi has no time for that, he doesn’t feel the need to be the outright #1 driver. Ferrari interpreted that as lack of feedback.

    Kubica tried it at BMW but it fell on deaf ears. So onto Renault were the driver as central focus culture had been fostered with Alonso and Schuamcher – Kubica was ideal. That culture will not disappear over night for Kimi.

    Moreover, once again Kimi’s joined an understeer loving team. Maybe the big changes in the technical team will change that but the thing is if they don’t, Kimi won’t complain – he’ll just get on with it. That doesn’t help the team though.

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  • Kimster

    He could have joined another team but Ferrari made it better for him to leave F1.

    Ferrari didn’t not want him because of motivation either. The Todt transition was the main factor, coupled with Santander money.

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  • Kimster

    How do you push the team then, it’s a phrase commonly used but never explained how you actually do that.

    Stefano Domenicali admitted in an interview of Autosprint 16.12.2008 (paper edition)

    Did Kimi share his problems with you?
    - We always talk with each other and argue about general technical issues. From the technical point of view, he was dissatisfied with front suspension and it didn’t work the way he wanted. The front suspension to suit him was a recurrent topic of our discussions.

    How fast did you discover that?
    - In midseason. We changed the suspension in Germany and returned it for Kimi in Monza.

    Kimi struggled in 2008 from Germany onwards with front tyre temps due to excessive understeer. It wasn’t his fault.

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  • Mav (author)

    How do you push the team then

    It’s called leadership and has nothing to do with on-track ability. It’ll never work with some teams – Frank Williams is the alpha male at his team. Remember Kubica berating BMW for putting their feet up after getting their win for the season? Alonso soon discovered that it wasn’t going to happen at McLaren. Renault, and Benetton before them, thrived on the driver-leader culture though.

    What it isn’t is simply feedback on what is wrong with the car.

    In a military analogy, it’s akin to how the great generals can inspire their armies when any fool can tell you that you’re outnumbered.

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  • Kimster

    So, you’re at the factory. What does a great leader do? Talk to the engineers about what is going on, when the driver isn’t as keyed up as the engineer. Does he give advice?

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  • Mav (author)

    You think Frank Williams understands what his employees are doing more than they do?

    Look, you can turn up to work and do what’s required of you or you can turn up and put extra effort in to do more than the basics. Why? You don’t get paid any more. Wanting the team to do better can be an inspiration. Wanting a driver to do better can, too. (Wanting a promotion can also, of course.)

    Leadership. The “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”

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  • Kimster

    Still isn’t really answering my question. What is it that a driver like Alonso would do differently from a driver like Raikkonen. Going to the factory itself and just standing there like a bit of very expensive furniture surely wouldn’t be much good.

    Would he go there and do some kind of Braveheart speech that makes the engineers think “I’ve got an idea to make the car go quicker!”. Is there something in particular that the great leaders do?

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  • Mav (author)

    Would he go there and do some kind of Braveheart speech

    He could. :-)
    He can do them on one-to-one basis though, if he prefers to not look like an idiot.
    Wearing blue wode is not necessary.
    I’ve heard that Alonso regularly treats his mechanics to presents – of course you’d tell Massa to get out of the way.

    First time I’ve heard of Kimi described as a piece of expensive furniture. I see him as a minimalist coffee table.

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  • Kimster

    I know Kimi built a great rapport with his Mclaren mechanics. Early in his Mclaren career he had a failure attributed to finger trouble. Ron Dennis said he found the guy responsible and was going to demote him to the test team. Kimi told Dennis to do no such thing and insisted he didn’t take any action on the mechanic as everyone makes mistakes. It’s all myths about Kimi. If Alonso just does presents then it’s all rubbish. We’ve gone from being Braveheart to Santa Claus in a very short space of time.

    I was actually talking about Alonso, he always dresses in some expensive designer rubbish. Kimi is always wearing the regular stuff.

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