I am in the Alsace region of France, on my way to the first stages on Friday. And I look at the beautiful scenery wondering if I ever left Germany. There are mountains, rolling hills and rows and rows of vineyards. Its familiar then. Perhaps Kimi will do even better here than in Germany seeing its an all new rally for everyone?
I decided to go french on my title for the occasion. If you cant be bothered googling the translation, dont worry. I will touch on it later ;)
This has to be one of Kimis best days in rally so far. He consistently gets the 7th fastest time on all 8 stages for the day. Showing he really is the best of the rest in his rookie year with only rally winners and champions ahead of him. He is just a little over a second off the pace pr kilometer compared to the stage winners. And he gets real close to only half a second off the pace to the Fords in some stages. Very impressive and promising. But we all know thats its that last second thats the tough one. And that can take years. Is he in it for the long run? Que veux tu, Kimi?
Kimi roared past us on SS2. You only got to see the car a few seconds and yet I could tell he was on it. Near perfect braking point and a feisty attack of the tight left hander. His usually toughest competitor, Matthew Wilson is left behind in the dust – 2,5 minutes after Kimi at the end of SS8. Villagra is 2 minutes behind and Block is not in sight either. That is pretty outstanding. And it gives a glimpse of next year when he will have experience and pacenotes from the rallies. But its those guys in front that is the real challenge. If he still goes rallying that is.
After an uplifting Friday, Kimi gets a good start on SS9. Loses a couple of seconds to Wilson and Villagra but he usually starts a little cautiously in the morning. I am at the start at SS10 where all the drivers line up. Petter gets out right in front of me and I go “Hi Petter” in Norwegian. I dont think he expected his native tongue right then and there, and says a somewhat surprised hi back :D
Kimi rolls in line too and immediately starts chatting and grinning with the drivers. Looking very pleased. There is a moment that I caught on camera where he goes very introspective and thoughtful for a few seconds before he lights up with a grin. I wonder what he was pondering on. His plans for next year? Judge for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWLVYe-gV-Q
On SS10 it all goes wrong. He slides off the track in a very slow corner and gets stuck in the mud. For some reason the spectators in France like to yell more than help so it takes him 35 minutes to get going again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzxUmewjQRQ What ever points result that were in the cards are gone by now. Thankfully, we would still get to see him drive the remaining stages. Action for us and experience for Kimi.
Im at SS13 watching him blast by us. He wasnt taking it easy, that much was certain. I suspect taking out some frustration as he was very mad about his off. He sets the 6th fastest time on SS14 and that with a broken handbrake.
But then, disaster strikes again. A second excursion off the road on SS15 means he wont drive the next and last stage that day. See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYcTnkwCe_w Again with the shouting? Yes, we know its Kimi Raikkonen. Shouting his name like an imbecile doesnt change that.
Still, there are superrally rules and Kimi will be able to start day 3 even if he is out of contention. For more experience and to the enjoyment of his fans. Or so we thought.
Late Saturday evening, there is an announcement from Kimi saying that he is not starting the next day. Reason: He is not going to risk damaging the car and there is not much experience to be gained anyway: http://www.maxrally.com/news/entry/no_restart_for_raikkonen_in_france/
Its a justifiable reason I guess. But that doesnt mean it was a huge disappointment to his fans. Especially those that travelled long distances to see him drive. One wishes he would have driven anyway and taken it more easy so he had a good margin for error.
MY 2 CENTS
And here is where I begin to think. Is there more to Kimi quitting the rally than just preservation of the car? Its 2 rallies in a row he has retired from now. Is the magnitude of the task he has taken upon himself hitting him even harder now? Sebastian Ogier won the Japanese rally not even haven driven there before. That is the making of an incredible talent that has been honed for years and years already. Since Ogier was a youngster he has driven in rallies. Up through the grades and classes. And it is only starting to pay off this year in rally wins.
Kimi is an unbelievable talent. And especially in open wheel racing. As it has been said many times before, this is a completely different animal. His skills show in flashes of speed now and then. But to start as a rookie at 30 with the goal of winning the WRC championship is a tall order. Even for Kimi. Now, I could be wrong. And maybe in a couple of years he is fighting right at the top. But I am also trying to be realistic. And Im doing that by looking at other great talents and how they did it. Like Solberg, Loeb and Ogier who surely is a future champion.
Bear with me, but perhaps it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. He had a year of great fun in rallying while being paid in full by Ferrari. I can fully understand he did that. He combined the best financial choice with something he has always wanted to try. But now this year is coming to an end and its decision time. Even though I love to see him do rally, I am convinced that the best thing for him to do if he wants to win more titles is return to F1. Even if it is with Renault in 2011. It might not be a winning car. But no one thought that Red Bull would be a monster car this year either. Everybody assumed it was going to be Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. Point is, you never know. But even if the Renault isnt a winning car, Kimi gets back into F1 at the perfect time.
KERS is back in 2011. He is one of the few people on the grid with KERS experience. Except for Lewis Hamilton, he is the only driver that has won a race with KERS. Also, Bridgestone is out and Pirelli is in. The Bridgestones was never Kimis favorites and chances are that any change in characteristics will only play in Kimis favor. And doing well in 2011, as I know he would, will open up for better seats in 2012 if he so chooses.
These are only my humble speculations of course. But there must be a reason why Robertson contacted Renault. And there must be a reason that Citroen is waiting for Kimi to decide. If he was absolutely sure he was in for the long run in rally, then the things I just mentioned doesnt add up. He sounds calm when asked about his plans. But I think he might be unsure and is thinking long and hard about this. There are obviously ups and downs with both options. Rally is not all wine and roses either. He said to Neil Cole that he wants to stay in rally. If that is the case, why is Citroen still waiting for his answer?
“At the moment there is no commitment from Kimi for next year,” Benoit said. Then I ask, why?
I think not bothering to drive on day 3 is more telling than some people think. But thats me. He was very mad on Saturday after his first off. Take a look at 0:34: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71Ka5idtqEY That is one angry Kimi! And going off again would not have improved his mood. If he went back to F1, does that mean its like giving up? No, I dont think so. He tried it because he wanted to try it and he was very good at it. Outstanding for a rookie actually. But as he has said himself, he is not interested in running midfield. I think he knows that if he sticks to rallying, he is going to be midfield for quite a while. It takes 3 years to get used to the notes according to Guy Fréquelin, the former team principal for the Citroen team. (Thanks Alizée) There are no guarantees either that he would ever get to the top when you start at 30. With F1, he would immediately be the cream of the crop again. And I believe that tempts him and is making him think long and hard what to do. Que veux tu, Kimi?
A return to F1 would be uncomplicated and welcome. He is missed by pretty much everyone in the paddock. And he would be duking it out at the top in no time. Maybe with Renault. If not, then surely with the team he chooses to go with in 2012. But he needs to get in now. If he does, he could yet claim one or two titles with the right car before he retires. Even with a down year or two.
So it all comes down to my french title which means “What do you want, Kimi?” If I could talk to him, I would try to persuade him to go back to F1 where his talent would be utilized to the fullest. There is a saying that you dont know what you got til its gone. A year away from F1 may just have been what the doctor ordered for Kimi. Yes, there are publicity and commercials and fans and interviews that he doesnt like. But guess what, those things are not exactly absent from rallying either.
And yes, I know I said that I wanted him to stay in rally after Germany. But you have an opinion until you get a new one. And the latest developments and Kimis undecisiveness changes things as I see them.
Say he goes back to F1 for 4 or 5 years. Maybe even wins a title. After that there is still plenty of rallying fun to be had. Ok, he will not win a championship, but he could just possibly win a rally event. And that is still quite an acheivement and goal for an F1 star.
That was my thoughts and ramblings. Feel free to disagree or agree. Perhaps even leave a comment.
Kimi all the way. Go Kimi Go!! (back to F1)
A big thank you goes out to Yvonne, Claudie, Mely and her mom that were nice enough to let me hitch a ride with them on Friday. Thanks guys. You are true Kimi fanatics ;)
And another big thanks goes to Kinga, her husband Sabi, Evi and Viki that also made room for me in their car on Saturday. Good times, true Raikkos ;)
If you are not a member of our english speaking Kimi Fanclub yet, its only a click away: http://bit.ly/9AFbrC