Let’s go there immediately. Address the elephant in the room so to speak. There is no denying that watching Kimi race this year has pretty much been abysmal. With the exception of Monaco, until fate played its cruel twist. So what is wrong? Kimi was the cream of the crop just a few months ago. Did he forget how to drive over the winter and suddenly became useless?
Some critics say so. But the idea falls on its own stupidity. Of course Kimi has not forgotten how to throw an F1 car around a track. The idea is both silly and idiotic. But it’s like an expert craftman suddenly being handed left-handed tools when he is right-handed. His work will suffer. And when the level of competition is very high, even the smallest disadvantages will show. He can eventually adapt but it will never be 100% as good.
And this is the case in hand. Kimi has been given a tool that absolutely does not sit with him. How often have we heard or seen interviews and press releases saying that they are bringing modifications. They are trying “new” things, updates and so on. So far it has not fixed the inherent characteristics of the car that does not suit a natural instinctive talent like Kimi. Even though it is slightly better: http://www.planetf1.com/driver/18227/9359497/Raikkonen-admits-Ferrari-frustration
So why does it work for Fernando? Is he just a better driver? He is a very good driver but speedwise he cannot quite match the speed that Kimi possesses on equal terms. (edit: I see that this sentence upsets some people. But Alonso have said himself that he isn’t the quickest driver in the world. But that he has many other strengths. And I can only agree with that. But I stick to my statement. I have made a small change in the wording to make it sound less bombastic, though.)
However, Alonso has had the car (And the team) built around him for 5 seasons straight now. No wonder the car feels better in his hands. He doesnt mind a weak frontend. It’s how he drives. It’s a simpler and more predictive way of attacking corners. But ultimately not as effective as a very sharp front end and a rear that can be used to turn the car out of corners. But it demands a more delicate setup. And a very skilled driver to wrestle an optimal laptime out of it. In this day and age, the former style of driving is proving the one to have. But it certainly isn’t the fastest.
“Oh, but Fernando is so much better at adapting to a bad car.” Is he now? How short is your memory? The last time Ferrari had a real dog was in 2009. Kimi struggled a lot with that car the first half of the season. He was down on points to Massa. But when Massa was taken out by a spring to his head, Ferrari suddenly had to start paying full attention to Kimis demands. Something that had not happened since 2007, maybe early 2008.
Immediately Kimi looked like a different driver. But was he? Had he “woken up”? Of course not, you mongrels! He finally had a car under him that he could trust and a frontend that behaved to his liking. The car was still crap and seriously lacked downforce but it got him podiums. Compared to before, where he often struggled just getting points. The Ferrari engineers even said that they simply didn’t understand how Kimi could set the times he did with that car.
Ferrari had stopped developing the car before the 2009 summer break. Only some minor track dependant updates came along. But he still managed to rack up more points than anyone in the second half of the season. Maybe Hamilton just managed to squeeze by in points collecting. But that was only due to the rest of the competition developing their cars while Ferrari were busy preparing Fernandos new car for 2010. And Kimi was driving a stricken underdeveloped car. But he drove it like a boss.
Let me give you an example. Badoer was maybe not the best choice for stepping into a shitbox. But even though he was ridiculed back then, it also shows how incredibly difficult it is to suddenly adjust to new equipment. But I will give you a better example. Late August 2009, Fisichella almost won the Belgian GP in a Force India. Which was quite sensational back then. And he would have won it – if it wasn’t for Kimi Raikkonen driving a crappy Ferrari with KERS. At Spa.
So Fisichella is certainly no slouch behind the wheel. But the poor guy jumps at the chance and gets put in the Ferrari the very next race in Monza. It was horrible to watch. I know because I was there. There Kimi was; fighting at the front for a podium. If you didn’t know any better, you would think he was a championship contender. And half a minute down the road comes Fisichella, struggling, fighting with the car. Yes, its red and its a Ferrari but was it worth it for Fisi? I saw Italians shaking their heads and throwing their hands up in the air, lamenting his driving. Which people do now with Kimi.
Was Fisichella suddenly crap? Lost his talent in a fortnight? Umm, no. He got into a car that definitely was no picnic. And it wasn’t built for him. He tried all he could to make it fit his needs. But to no avail. He had 5 races in the car and it practically only got worse. Oh well. He has a career with Ferrari now and he just won the Le Mans so I guess he is alright. But it really was a trainwreck seeing him in the F60.
Edit: Actually, I also want to highlight his race in Brazil 2009. It might be even more impressive than Spa that year. He was set for another fight at the front but gets a puncture and a broken frontwing from contact with Webber on lap 1. He gets into the pits, has a longer stop due to wing change, goes out the box, gets fuel in his eyes from Kovalainens fuel hose, gets set on fire, keeps on driving:
From the very back of the field he fights and claws his way up to 6th place with fuel burning in his eyes for the rest of the race. Something he only complained about when the race was over. No one. And I mean no one could have done the same in that car.
You can also look at Vettel this year. He is one of the best qualifiers that F1 has seen. And yet, his new teammate is beating him in qualifying. And in races too. Again – of course Vettel has not lost his talent! “Now, hold on there a minute”, you say. “Vettel has been in Red Bull since 2009 and he should have his car built around him like Alonso and be just fine”. Well, theoretically yes. But things are not always that black and white in F1. He clearly has some serious problems adapting to this car and perhaps even more – the new formula. The lack of downforce is really hurting him and the more they try to work around the problem the more accentuated it seems to get.
So is Kimis problem the new formula this year then? Hard to say. Maybe. The new rules could certainly be part of the problem. But mostly it is the car that is killing off all his attributes. Kimi is smooth in his driving and great at saving tires. That skill is impossible to display when the car is sliding around on the track. His tires get spent just as fast or faster than the others. His raw high speed corner entrys? Impossible to do when you cannot trust the frontend. Manipulating the rearend? Forget it.
From his quotes to the press it seems that when one end of the car is okay, the other becomes unstable for him. And vice versa. As he elaborates in this article as well. It also mentions the brake-by-wire problems that have been pestering him too: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/114639
And one mustn’t ignore the blatant favorism that Ferrari is giving Alonso. Look at Spain. Pit stop favoring. Extra power for Alonso in qualifying. And how the pitstop calls for Kimi time and again are horrible. There is a room full of engineers with screens full of data and they cannot figure out that Kimi will lose 4 places if they do not pit him immediately! No, lets keep him out for a few more laps. Genius… Things like this makes me a conspiracy theorist and I usually loathe those. So Kimi has to deal with this in addition to fighting the car.
“But F1 champions should be able to adapt”. Yes. They should. But the fact is that this new formula clearly suits some drivers more than others. And they are the lucky ones because they have much less adapting to do. Look at Nico Rosberg beating Hamilton. Hamilton is close but many thought he would wipe the floor with the German. That has not happened yet. Rosberg is just one of those drivers that this years regulations just sit better with. Just like Alonso. Ricciardo. And it looks like Magnussen too.
I personally think it’s a shame that the need for raw speed is gone. F1 is being regulated to death. And the drivers that flourish are not the balls-out Gilles Villeneuve types that we all love to see pushing a Formula 1 car to the limit and sometimes beyond. I’m completely convinced that Senna would absolutely hate this new formula and he wouldn’t be quiet about it either. But alas, this is what we have now. And it is not set to change for a while. One can always hope of course. Meanwhile we can only lament that it filters out the true greats. The seat of their pants drivers. Like Kimi Raikkonen. Whose ability to be lightning quick out of the box is legendary.
The speed is still there. But he has a ball and chain around his ankle, hiding, hampering his ferociousness. The ball is the F14T and the chain the current regulations. Will Ferrari fix it eventually? Sadly, I don’t think so. They will soon focus everything on next years car. The question is – will Alonso be in it. Will Kimi?
The Austrian GP review? Oh, right. Not gonna do that. Sorry folks. But I will say that the Williams were really impressive. Bottas looks like a coming star. I do think the track favored them a bit. Great track btw. But in spite of the gloomyness above, I am actually really looking forward to Monza. The Williams cars have some serious straightline speed. And I can’t wait to see what topspeeds they will achieve. 360 kph+ would be cool! That being said, it is going to be sad to see Nico being in front of Hamilton all season, just to lose it all in the final doublepoints race. You heard it here first.
Finally, take some comfort in these very mature words uttered by Kimi after qualifying in Austria:
Austria MTV3 Interview
“I have always said that the problems won’t get fixed quickly and bigger problems take more time to fix but I believe we will sort the problems. About the difference to Alonso, of course it would be nicer to have it the other way around. But at the moment I do not stress about it, as my main goal is to get this team on top and fight for wins and then it will matter more… At the moment when we are fighting for positions 5-10, I do not worry about it much, of course you always try your best. I have lots of experience so I know how to ask what I want“.
(Translated by Vesuvius @ Autosport Forum)
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Everything pretty much turned to shit after you left Ferrari, Mr. Todt. Can you come back? You can bring old Léon.