Kimi is leading by miles. This is looking good. Can it be? The very first race? All of a sudden the red car goes wide at turn 1 and I start yelling at the TV. What are you doing?! Wake up! Apparently that is what his team did as well. To no avail as his radio had stopped working. Thankfully Kimi recovers. Turns out that he was leading with such ease that he dozed off for a second and hence the slight off. But he crossed the finish line in P1
and the rest is history.
That was 6 years ago. And now we are back. In 2013. With a bang. And the wet dream of every Kimi fan has come to pass by seeing him clinch the win in the opening race. Some say that the more things change, the more things stay the same. And in this instance it’s the fact that when Kimi wins in Australia, he thinks it’s easy: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/106110
I have trouble believing that, but it’s what the man said. So lets delve into that enormous bag of goodies and see what we find.
Winter testing was so-so for Lotus. Kimi had not even done a race simulation yet, due to tech problems and illness. Some amends were made on Friday but Saturday rained out so the final shootout was reserved for Sunday morning. Vettel bags Pole position in familiar (and superior) style and the groan from the masses grew louder as another Red Bull dominant year was feared. As for me? I like Vettel, so if Kimi can’t take the win, then I will
take a Vettel win any day. He is head and shoulders above his teammate in one-lap pace and races.
The conditions were tricky to say the least. A wet but drying and increasingly faster track is as hard as it gets. I dont want to spend too much time going over qualifying but Lewis getting 3rd slot after the bulls was impressive. Massa got the better of Alonso in 4th and 5th. And we have Kimi and Grosjean down in 7th and 8th. Huh. Well, its a heck of a lot better than last year is what I said to myself. Perhaps he could get a podium if all
works well, was my hope.
My pulse is racing as the lights go on, one by one. I suddenly get a horrible thought. Kimi could be taken out by someone in 10 seconds from now! What the heck, brain? Shut up! As I fight my pessimistic side, the lights go out and I strain to see how Kimi fares. Oh no, thats a shitty start! FFFFUUUUUUU! Wait a minute… Isn’t it Grosjeans helmet that is white on top now and Kimis that is black? Argh, it is! FFFFFUUUUU! What’s with the switchy of helmet colors FFS!!
But hey, that not a bad start. Not bad at all! He surged past a couple of cars on the outside but has to slot in behind Hamilton at turn 1. 5th place and Kimi is looking hungry behind Hamilton. He attempts to get past him in turn 13 and 14. Great dicing. On lap 2 he gets it done on the outside of the Mercedes. Props to Lewis for leaving da space. 4th place.
To my surprise, Vettel is not doing his usual pull away at the front. Also to my surprise, Massa is still ahead of his teammate. Alonso gets a good run after turn 12, but Massa doesn’t give any favors away and defends to keep his 2nd place. It’s a pipedream, Massa. A fata morgana. But I respect you for still keeping the faith. Always interesting to see how the red team will make the ol’ switcheroo.
Anyway. The number 1 car has 2 Ferraris up his gearbox. Kimi a little further adrift, but chugging away at the gap between them. They all have the supersoft tires on their cars and they are wearing fast. Vettel is the first to pit for mediums on lap 7. The following lap its the number 2 guy at Ferrari that dives into the pits. By lap 9, Kimi has completely caught up with Alonso and they pit at the same time only meters apart! The expertise in the Ferrari stall shows immediately as Alonso gains a full second on that stop alone.
Exit the pits and that one second has already given Alonso a huge advantage in his fight with Kimi. He comes out ahead of Maldonado and Kimi behind. Not good. However, Maldonado senses an Icy chill on the back of his neck and it causes him to run off in turn 1. “Kiitos”, says Kimi and passes the Williams with ease. The margins in his favor for once.
Lap 12 sees Kimi pull another ballsy move. He comes up on Perez with worn tires. The general concensus is that you don’t pass cars in the extremely quick left-right combination of turn 11 and 12. Kimi says, “Screw your consensus. Ain’t nobody got time for that.” as he makes the pass leaving me holding my breath once again.
Up ahead, the silver arrows are leading the race not having stopped yet. With comeback Stabby-boy Sutil an interesting 3rd. (For the uninformed, Sutil stabbed Genii boss, Eric Lux in the neck with a broken glass in a nightclub in 2011. The story is he only wanted to throw the contents of the glass in his face but ended up glassing him instead.) Sutil is on mediums and does not have to pit his Force India for a while. As the Mercedes car make their pit stops one after another, we have Sutil genuinely leading a race after having been away for a year. Not too stabby.. er. I mean shabby.
What is even more surprising is that when Vettel catches up with the Force India, he is not only unable to pass him but after a few laps, Sutil even breaks the DRS from the Red Bull.. Vettels mediums were worn so they have the same amount of laps on them as Sutils. The Ferraris have newer rubber on and is keeping well in DRS range, yet not having enough speed to make a pass.
This allows Kimi to close the gap that he had gradually lost after his pit stop. Up until then I was somewhat downhearted seeing Kimi lose ground to the Ferraris after new rubber was put on. It was only later that I realized he was being a clever little fox, keeping those mediums alive while maintaining a reasonable pace. I just don’t think I could do that in the same situation. I would be like “I know I gotta save the tires, but look, they are getting away from me! Screw this, Im pushing to catch up!” And I would have wasted any potential later advantage. But Kimi was not kidding. He really knows what he is doing, except he doesn’t make a big fuss about it. Smooth steering inputs, metronomic-like consistency, undistracted and determined he stuck with the program.
Lap 20 and Ferrari and Santander has had enough of seeing their golden goose (which has yet to lay a golden egg) being stuck behind Felipe baby. So they pit him and leave Massa out for 3 more laps instead of just one. And that gives Alonso enough of an advantage to jump his teammate. He does crucially manage to jump Vettel as well who pitted one lap later. And the race is very much on. Vettel gets out behind Sutil but an incredibly late
braking effort on the next lap gets him past his fellow German. Great move! Strange, since everyone knows he cant pass people.
Ok, lets see. We now have our protagonist leading the race. Albeit on pretty worn tires. And I’m thinking, that’s pretty cool. But you gotta pit him soon, Lotus. He is losing a lot of time to those on fresher rubber! But Kimi stays out. And stays out. The times are respectable but not quite as fast as his rivals that are catching up. Just as I am about to go on Twitter to unleash some hate towards the Lotus team, it finally dawns on me: He is 2-stopping. The s.o.b. was going for a 2-stopper all along! And Alonso and co all have to stop again. That means.. no. Could there really be a chance?
Lap 34, Kimi pits. 23 laps to go. Alonso is 14 seconds ahead. To make it clear of Kimi after his stop, he needs at least 23 seconds. Not a chance as the Ferrari driver pits on lap 39. 7 seconds is the gap down to Alonso after his stop. But Kimi is not leading. Amazingly, we have Sutil leading the race once again. Mostly due to his different tire strategy but also by an impressive pace in his comeback race. Kudos.
Kimi does eventually catch up to the dolphin lovin’ pianist and makes an awesome pass:
Sutil defends his position in turn 13 and Kimi takes him on the inside on the next corner. Having carried more speed from a better exit. NOW Kimi is leading the race! 14 laps to go and the gap is down to 4 seconds.. Is Alonso catching him? Are the tires on the Lotus gone? Not likely. Kimi responds and helped by some traffic the gap is up to about 8 seconds after a couple of laps. Only now do I dare to dream of a win. Whitmarsh is being interviewed and while he is impressed by Kimi he believes the final 10 laps will be tough for the Finn.
Well, if they were tough it didn’t look like it. Everytime Alonso makes a slight push, there is a response. In the final couple of laps, the Iceman even sets the fastest lap of the race. The 38th of his career. Even as he crosses the finish line and raises his hand in triumph, I can hardly believe my eyes. It has been a display in speed, racecraft and smarts. Props to the Lotus team for a great strategy and a great car. Perfectly executed from Mr. Raikkonen. He did not set a foot wrong in the entire race. I admit I am a Kimi fan. Everyone knows that. But this was downright masterful. Nothing else to say. His Abu Dhabi win last year was great. Emotional. But he caught a break with Hamiltons retirement. This on the other hand was all Kimi. Just look at his teammate finishing in 10th position. One of his most impressive wins in my opinion.
I have not much to add really. I am still a loss for words. I’m drained from lack of sleep and being on a high all day. But I just had to put my thoughts to paper so to speak. And here is my 2 cents on Kimi and this years car and tires.
Kimi has always been a very smooth driver. Eje Elgh of the Swedish F1 broadcast called Kimi the greatest natural talent that Formula One has ever seen. And he is an old school racer so he should know. Kimis smoothness has been his Achilles heel at times though. Tires need heat to perform their best. And smoother drivers have a harder time working heat into them than aggressive drivers. This obviously affects qualifying. It was a problem last year as well. Although not as bad as in 2008. This year however, things could favor Kimis style for once. Pirelli have made tires of a softer compound to force more pitstops. They are also a lot grippier than last year and crucially – heats up a lot quicker.
This is what I am hoping will bring Kimi the starting positions he needs to mount a serious challenge this year. The pace of the Lotus E21 appears to be very real. And it looks to have hit a sweet spot in tire management. But we will know more in Malaysia as Melbourne is a green track and temps were pretty low. The Red Bull will be back to fight another day I’m sure.
Anyways. My blog is back. And I aim to make a review for every race. Aim, mind you. Turns out that my lovely wife is pregnant and we are expecting a daughter this August. For this I blame the long off-season and winter 😉 No, we are as happy as can be, but my point is that I might miss one or two reviews due to external circumstances. But this could be a good one people. Stay tuned to follow Kimis glorious 2013 onslaught!
Images © Photo4/XPB Images, Force India
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