Raikkonen can put victory hopes on ice
Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Formula One after a two-year hiatus has enthused media, fans and rivals alike. But the question remains — does the Iceman’s comeback mean a cooling of double world champion Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of being red-hot favourite again next year?
Almost certainly not. Raikkonen’s return is certainly a good thing for Formula One. For the first time ever, the sport will see six world champions line up on the starting grid.
Known for his often monosyllabic approach to the media and love of a good party away from the racetrack, the return of the steely-eyed Finn will add another welcome storyline.
But don’t expect him to win a second world title.
For one, Raikkonen makes his return with what will be called the Lotus team next year. While a solid midfield team of late in their Renault guise, they haven’t won a race since 2008 when Fernando Alonso was driving for them.
Also, while they got off to a strong start in 2011, scoring podiums in the first two races of the season, their form tailed off towards the end of the year and they only just managed to hang on to fifth in the final standings ahead of Force India.
There are also questions about Raikkonen’s motivation. The Finn was dropped by Ferrari in 2009 — a year before his contract expired — as questions about his desire to win mounted. Raikkonen has had a winning car in every season since his 2001 debut bar one, and it is unlikely that Lotus will be able to provide him with race-winning machinery right away.
In a recent Q&A handed out by Lotus, Raikkonen said motivation is not an issue. But will he stay hungry if all he’s fighting for are the lower points scoring positions on a fiercely competitive grid?
It’s easy for fans and the media to get carried away by the return of a driver with immense talent and devastating pace, thereby fuelling expectations surrounding the comeback. But it’s also easy to recall what happened to the last big comeback story.
Though his form has improved of late, seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher is yet to stand on the podium two years into his comeback and has more often than not struggled to match his younger Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg for pace.
While Raikkonen is far younger and is unlikely to have lost his prodigious speed after two years in rallying, don’t expect him to be standing on the top step and taking a celebratory swig of champagne anytime soon.