Rivals: Raikkonen and Lotus still a force to be reckoned with
By Berthold Bouman
Kimi Raikkonen is still a force to be reckoned with, according to his rivals. The Finn made a successful return to Formula One this season, he was right on the pace from day one and is currently in third place of the Drivers’ Championship, just 38 points behind leader Fernando Alonso, and just one point behind the number two, Lewis Hamilton.
The Finn has finished in the top ten of all 12 races, except the Chinese Grand Prix, which became a lottery due to heavy rainfall and in which he finished 14th, and thus scored points in 11 of those 12 races. He scored three third places, three second places, and the only thing still missing is a race win.
Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali of course knows the Iceman very well from his Ferrari days, when he was asked who poses the greatest threat for Alonso the Italian said, “I have to respect all of them, and I’ve always said that Kimi, step by step, is a dangerous driver and he’s getting closer and closer.”
And he added, “For sure Hamilton with the car he has now is very strong, but we have seen in the last two races that anything can happen. So all the drivers that are in the top five and top six need to be taken very seriously.”
Also Alonso’s race engineer Andrea Stella hasn’t forgotten how fast Raikkonen is, “Of course Kimi can challenge Fernando in the championship, he has a good car. I remember 2007 very well, when we came from far behind with him right to the top.”
And Ferrari does have to worry about Lotus, as the Enstone-based team is third in the Constructors’ Championship, only nine points behind the Scuderia from Maranello, and Lotus could easily take over their third place.
Former Formula One driver Hans-Joachim Stuck, a veteran of 81 Grands Prix, is also impressed with Raikkonen’s comeback. “Before it happened, I was actually very sceptical when he decided to return to Formula One. He has now surprised me totally. This is a storybook comeback. Alonso and Vettel are definitely strong rivals, but if things go right for Kimi, everything is still possible,” said the German.
Also former Ferrari driver and compatriot Mika Salo believes Raikkonen can still win the title, “The most consistent team has been Lotus. They’ve been fast at every circuit so far. In that sense, Kimi’s situation looks very good. I would not exclude it at all that he will be fighting at the very end of the championship, if Lotus is able to maintain the pace of development.”
Karl Wendlinger, who raced for Sauber in the 90s, was also impressed and thinks the Finn is still a title contender. “He is at a very high level. After a two-year break, to have a lot of podiums already is sensational. He is very fast in the races and again and again is going for the wins. I think everyone up to and including Raikkonen in fifth place can still fight for this championship,” said the Austrian.
Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier gave his opinion about Raikkonen’s title bid after the Italian Grand Prix, “The approach he has is good. The more we can deliver big points, and if we can maintain our consistency, that is going to be key for the championship. We have said this since the beginning [of the season] and he is confirming that now. So we look forward to the next races because they should suit our car much better. Kimi still has the chance for the title, even though it will be really difficult.”
Raikkonen said after he finished the race in Italy in fifth place, “It’s good to go into third position, but we lost some points to Fernando [Alonso], which is not ideal. It was a difficult weekend as we were too slow in a straight line. We came into the race looking for sixth or seventh so fifth is the maximum we could have done here this weekend.”
But he also warned Lotus still have to push hard to remain in the race for the 2012 title, “We need a bit stronger package if we want to win. Everything has to get better. We need more speed, more downforce … then we will see.”
Lotus is currently working on a double DRS system like Mercedes have, but due to the rain in Spa they were not able to test and evaluate the new package, and also didn’t run it at Monza, afraid it might hamper Raikkonen’s pace on the high-speed circuit instead of improving it.
But the DDRS will not make its début before the Japanese Grand Prix, according to Lotus’ Technical Director James Allison. “In Singapore you won’t see it either, because it’s too high a downforce circuit with insufficient straights for it to be worthwhile. The earliest you might see it now is Suzuka,” he said.
And Raikkonen, who according to rumours sealed a new Lotus contract for 2013, isn’t worried at all, “I have almost as good a chance as anybody else. I’ve always said I am happy that I won one championship. It’s good if there are more, but whether I win more championships or not would not change my life. When I have the opportunity, I will try my best!”