Analysing The Iceman and his F1 return
Kimi Raikkonen, 2007 F1 world champion, announced his comeback to the sport today after signing a two-year deal with the Lotus-Renault squad.
The question now is which side of Raikkonen emerges: the Flying Finn who claimed 18 victories and 62 podiums, or the seemingly disinterested figure he became in the latter stages.
The dichotomy between those two sides of Raikkonen made him one of the most enigmatic – and by extension popular – characters on the F1 grid: a maverick capable of exceptional performances but who perhaps relied too much on natural talent and lacked the intensity and attention to detail of a Michael Schumacher of Fernando Alonso.
So how might Kimi fare on his F1 comeback? Will the Iceman’s second coming prove a glorious return, or an ill-judged mistake by both the driver and his team?
While the definitive answer will be provided over the course of 2012, the Castrol EDGE Rankings are able to shed some light on a return that has left millions of F1 fans delighted.
The accusation most commonly levelled against Raikkonen is a lack of motivation, but he performed better in 2008 and 2009 – his final two years in F1 – than many people give him credit for.
In 2008 for example, when he was left trailing Felipe Massa in the drivers’ championship, he still scored ten fastest laps over the races – suggesting that car handling, rather than pace or enthusiasm, was his main cause for struggle.
In 2009 he took one victory and five podiums but finished a distant sixth in the championship, leading to a premature exit as Ferrari looked to Fernando Alonso to build their future around.
That season Raikkonen dropped from fourth to 15th in the Castrol EDGE Rankings, a slump that – on the surface at least – bears out the argument he had lost motivation and was on the wane.
In truth however the opposite is more apposite. In the first nine races of 2009 the Finn took just one podium, at Monaco, and averaged 684 points per race in the Rankings.
In the second half of the year his record improved markedly. His 18th grand prix win was delivered in style at Spa-Francorchamps; podiums came at Hungary, Valencia and Monza; and across the final eight races he averaged over 1,000 points per race, a distinct improvement.
Look across to his two seasons in the WRC, and a similar pattern emerges. While his decision to not compete in several rallies in 2011 again left him open to criticism, in the rallies he did compete in he averaged 466 points in the Rankings.
Compare that to 2010, and his average is lower – 393 per rally – despite scoring his best result in WRC in the rally of Turkey.
As was the case in his final F1 season then, the Rankings suggest that motivation – inside the cockpit at least – does not present as significant a problem as some suggest.
So what then can be expected of Raikkonen? Can he ever return to the highs of 2007, or will his comeback simply rank in the ‘solid if unspectacular’ column.
Again, the Rankings can shed some light. This year Vitaly Petrov, Renault’s de facto number one, finished 38th in the Rankings, and 11th of the F1 drivers.
One year prior and Robert Kubica sat 15th, the same position Raikkonen held when he left F1.
If Raikkonen is to once again rech that mark he will therefore have to replicate the sort of pace Kubica was able to achieve in 2010 - a speed which carried the Pole to a front-row start at Monaco, three podiums and one fastest lap at Canada.
Raikkonen must be giving time to settle in to his F1 comeback, especially as the landscape of the sport has changed vastly in the past two years. Using the data of the Castrol EDGE Rankings though, it seems the Finn could once again be flying up the order next year.