Raikkonen's return: It's great for F1

By on Tuesday, November 29, 2011

© Lotus Renault GP

Now that Kimi Raikkonen has been confirmed at Lotus Renault, attention inevitably turns to what they can achieve together next season.

First and foremost, it should be celebrated that Formula One will boast an unprecedented six different world champions on the grid, boasting fourteen titles between them. No other season of F1 has contained so many champions. Raikkonen’s return is positive publicity both for the team and Formula One, after a slightly difficult second half of the season both for Lotus Renault and for Formula One, as the title was decided with several events remaining and the quality of racing action worsened.

Talk now is on who will partner Raikkonen, with Vitaly Petrov – who actually has a contract, Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean the main candidates for a seat that will ultimately play second fiddle to the Finn. A harsh reality is that it should now be Lotus’s priority to sort out the situation with Robert Kubica. I have great sympathy for the Pole, but stories about his comeback and uncertainty surrounding him has blighted Renault throughout 2011 and unless his situation is dealt with, there will still be an air of instability at the team. The snide comments exchanged in public between Kubica’s manager Daniele Morelli and team Principal Eric Bouiller has turned the situation into an almost comic farce. Lotus needs to enter 2012 knowing their drivers and an assurance that the line-up will remain unchanged.

In terms of Raikkonen’s ability, it is simply a guessing game. It’s difficult to use Michael Schumacher as a barometer for how Raikkonen might fare. Firstly, Schumacher had a neck injury to deal with – a vital part of the body for a Formula One driver – he was 41, rather than 32 years old, and he was returning to racing having taken part in just a minor superbike series. Raikkonen on the other hand has tested a Le Mans car, taken part in two seasons of the World Rally Championship and started a couple of NASCAR races. He’s still in race mode. Of course, he will have to learn the Pirelli tyres and reacquaint himself with the logistics of Formula One racing, but you’d expect Raikkonen to be as strong as he was a few years ago. Furthermore, a couple of season driving rally cars will ultimately assist his overall car control – something that was sensational beforehand.

However, the crucial component of his return will be this: what sort of car can Lotus give him? The team hasn’t won a race since the Japanese Grand Prix in 2008, and they haven’t been winning races consistently since 2006. Renault’s form at the end of 2011 has been woeful. This has undoubtedly been compounded by the Forward Facing Exhaust being difficult to develop. The team took a radical approach and it failed. Let’s not forget that the team started 2011 with podiums, on the back of a strong 2010 (in the hands of Kubica certainly). Raikkonen can help Lotus enormously. Ferrari engineers say that he gave them crucial feedback even when it wasn’t needed or required, with the media often judging Raikkonen as uncommunicative with teams because of his sketchy relationship with them.

Don’t expect miracles in 2012. Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and to an extent, Mercedes, will be hard to overhaul. But Kimi Raikkonen back? That’s enough for now.

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