Slade: Raikkonen back at the top of his game

By on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

© Lotus F1 Team

After two solid race performances in a row, Kimi Raikkonen's race engineer, Mark Slade is convinced that the Finn is back at the top of his game despite being away from Formula 1 for two seasons.

"I think he's the same young kid who was a superstar when he arrived on the scene. He looks as fit as he's ever been and is absolutely at the top of his game as far as I can see," Slade said in an interview with Autosport. The Briton also believes that Raikkonen's true pace was masked by a mistake in Q1 during qualifying in Australia, as well as the five place grid penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change and the changeable weather conditions in Malaysia.

Slade was also quick to downplay the magnitude of any similarities between Raikkonen's steering problems in Australia and Jarno Trulli's power steering issues at Caterham last year. "In Melbourne he was still finding his feet a little bit and there were some things to do with the set-up that I thought, well, once you're up to speed you won't want it like this but we'll leave it for now. This weekend [in Malaysia] though, he's making the sort of comments about how he wants it changed that I was expecting. That means he's properly on it again," said Slade.

Describing Raikkonen's driving style, Slade said: "He's very smooth actually, and that means he can often handle a car that's a bit sharper than other drivers, who are more aggressive with their steering inputs, would be able to cope with. I think that's a strength of his."

Slade goes on to describe the unique and independent nature of the Iceman, saying: "He's not fazed by what goes on around him and he's very good at giving feedback in terms of what we need to improve. He's very independently minded and doesn't want people doing stuff for him. He wants to put his own helmet on, to sort the radio connector out himself... doesn't want people fussing around him. That all gives him a single-minded determination that is very good for the job. There have been times when his car's been on high stands with a minute to go before his qualifying run and he's just sitting there assuming we'll get it all sorted. Other drivers would get all flustered but with Kimi you almost have to tap him on the helmet to wake him up, and off he goes."

Slade, has worked with several Formula 1 world champions in the past. Slade was race engineer to Mika Hakkinen from 1998-2001, Kimi Raikkonen from 2002-2006, Fernando Alonso in 2007 and Michael Schumacher in 2011.

However, Slade considers Raikkonen as the driver he has gotten along with best. "Kimi is probably the one I've had the closest relationship with, although I felt I got on well with all of them. With guys of that calibre you know that the effort you put in is going to be returned in spades by their commitment. That's what makes it all worthwhile."

Although many have questioned Raikkonen's commitment to Formula 1, Slade knew Raikkonen was serious about returning when he received a phone call from the 2007 world champion himself. "I think some people were not sure Kimi was coming back for the right reasons but I was pretty confident that if he was calling me up to ask if I wanted to get involved, he wasn't going to let me down and was completely serious."

Never a fan of PR obligations in the past, Raikkonen is now showing an increased level of maturity with dealing with the press after a two year stint in the World Rally Championship. The Iceman has made appearances on behalf of Lotus on the BBC television series Top Gear and at the Geneva Motor Show to unveil a special edition Lotus road car, to name a few.

"He just wants to get in the car, drive it fast, work with the engineers and drive it faster. The rest of it he just sees as an annoyance and a distraction. It is necessary to do the other stuff and, as I understand, once he's been convinced that he needs to do it, he's very good at it. But he just wants to do as little of that as possible. I can understand that. I'm not saying I agree with it completely, but I can understand why he would see it that way. And at the end of the day teams take him on, they know what they're getting and have to work with it," Slade explained.

Contrary to the Finn's ice-cool public demeanor, he was on the radio with his race engineer shouting about blue flags during the Australian Grand Prix, which can be heard in the video clip below.

"When he wants to get a point across, he makes it very strongly and it can sound somewhat agitated. He's not, though; he simply wants to make sure that nobody's in any doubt as to what he wants. I can imagine that some people might take that the wrong way," said Slade.

When asked about his radio message after the race, Raikkonen replied: "I was just wondering what was going on as they kept showing me the flags but I knew the gap to the leader was nowhere near a whole lap! I assumed it was for the car behind that I’d just overtaken but it seemed to go on for a while, so I was trying to find out why they were still waving at me!"

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