The past three races have not been shining examples of Kimi Raikonen’s race craft.
It began with an uncharacteristic last-lap lunge at Valtteri Bottas in Russia which left the Williams driver in the barriers and Raikkonen facing the stewards. The outcome was the stiffest penalty handed down to a driver so far this year for a racing infringement: a ten-second stop-go penalty and three penalty points on Raikkonen’s superlicence.
Last weekend he committed a similar though less severe lapse of judgement with the same driver. This time Bottas was unaffected and Raikkonen come off worst. The stewards declined to get involved, which would surely not have been the case had they thought Raikkonen blameless.
Inevitably much was made of the fact that the same two drivers had collided again. Special significance could be attached to the fact that Bottas had been considered a likely target for Ferrari as Raikkonen’s replacement earlier in the year.
But the fact Bottas was involved in both collisions is incidental. F1 drivers don’t spend much time going wheel-to-wheel with their rivals, and when they do it is probable they will usually end up fighting their closest championship rivals who are in similarly competitive cars. Raikkonen and Bottas are almost neck-and-neck over fourth in the standings at present.
The pair avoided each other in the intervening race at the Circuit of the Americas, but here too Raikkonen wasn’t at his best in wheel-to-wheel combat. Max Verstappen saw him off so conclusively Raikkonen was left wondering whether there were aspects of the racing rulebook he didn’t fully understand.
“That guy keeps pushing me off the circuit every time, when I’m next to him,” Raikkonen complained. “So if that’s legal then I will do the same next time.” He was told the team “we’re checking with Charlie”. Race director Charlie Whiting clearly felt nothing was amiss.
You can point to any number of examples of Raikkonen not experiencing these problems on his way to becoming a world champion who’s won multiple races with three different teams. A driver does not set the record for most consecutive points finishes or produce one of F1’s most celebrated fights through the field – from 15th to first at no less a circuit than Suzuka – without knowing how to handle themselves on the track.
So what, if anything, lies behind his recent difficulties? Even in his prime, Raikkonen has always invited questions about whether he has the application to match his talent. That hasn’t changed since he returned from his two-year absence from F1.
His Brazil 2012 escapade of darting up a closed escape road because he hadn’t bothered to check the track beforehand and discover it was no longer open, is one such example. Similarly last year at Silverstone he tried to rejoin the track by speeding over bumpy grass instead of taking the intended route over smooth asphalt – the consequence was a huge crash which took out several other drivers.
The rules on defensive driving have been revised several times in recent years, particularly around the controversial issue of when drivers are required to leave room for their rivals. Raikkonen’s own words suggest he may not have grasped the latest guidance fully enough to be able to exploit the rules to the limit as every professional racing driver must from time to time.
There have been earlier indications of this. In Monaco he was quick to point the finger at Daniel Ricciardo when the pair made contact as Raikkonen was overtaken. Ricciardo had opportunistically poked his car alongside his rival’s before Raikkonen began encroaching upon the space occupied by the Red Bull, with inevitable consequences.
“He just hit me then I went wide, so, that’s not very nice,” was Raikkonen’s interpretation. “If that’s not a penalty then nothing is penalty.”
Once again, Raikkonen’s expectations about what is and isn’t legal did not chime in with how the stewards saw things. And while he publicly claims he will continue to make the same moves in future – it being better to keep one’s rivals in the dark – the radio messages to his team suggest the penny has dropped and he has begun to realise this aspect of his game is not up to scratch.
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