Well Well Well, Kimi Is Going To Ferrari – Part 1
Ask anyone if they actually thought Kimi Raikkonen would have made his way back to the Scuderia, the one that is located in Maranello, and I am quite confident that they would have said “No way, Jose”. Not one pundit, expert or for that matter hardcore fan could have seen this one coming.
Myself, I also could have not imagined such an outcome in regards to where Raikkonen was going to end up. What I will take credit for is feeling quite sure Felipe Massa would not be driving a red car next year. However, I predicted that the last two years in a row so don’t give me too much credit on that one either.
Kimi is a bit unique among Formula One drivers. Low key, not very political, unconcerned about his future and when not racing likes to enjoy life and maybe a couple beers., maybe more than just a couple, ha ha. This is a guy that basically left Ferrari to make room for Fernando Alonso, walked away with a nice contract buyout, went and raced in WRC for a couple of years, spent a weekend racing a truck on ovals in America, then decided to come back to F1. Tried to buy into the Williams F1 team (if the rumors are to be believed) and when that didn’t work, finally decided to make his comeback with a then mid-field Lotus Team. Now Ferrari wants him back for two years to partner with the guy that he was for all intents fired for, and yet he seems to not have an ax to grind against anyone (unless your Sergio Perez whose lights he wanted to punch out for causing his late race exit at Monaco this year while in a good points paying position).
Like his peers and employers and fans I feel his presence in F1 is a breath of fresh air. It cannot be said enough: F1 would do well to have a few more drivers such as Raikkonen among its ranks. We need more ice cream eating in the garage and everyone should be required to yell at their bosses over the radio “Leave me alone I know what I’m doing” at least once a season. After all drivers are human, and they should be able to act as such.
I was critical of Sebastian Vettel for the Malaysia affair and how he disobeyed his team, but when he admitted a few days later that he would probably do it again (disobey the team and pass Mark Webber) I found that to be very human, very honest and quite refreshing. I like it when people in the limelight who have something to lose don’t read from the script; I like rebels, they keep everything interesting. Raikkonen has this in spades.
This sport that I love so much sometimes takes itself just a bit too seriously and because there is so much at stake, reputations, sponsorships, records, legacy’s, and a crap load of money, F1 can at times forget to have a little fun. With Kimi in the mix, F1 can crack a grin from time to time and remember that aside from winning (which is very important) we also should be having fun at the same time.
So now Raikkonen, this low-key, non political, just let me get on with the task at hand driver, who by the way is super fast and always a threat for the win, will be the teammate of Fernando Alonso.
The title of this post implies that there will be a follow up, today I’m just going to address what this move means for both Alonso and Raikkonen and later what it means for the rest of the field, mainly Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton and ok, you could throw in Jenson Button as well if McLaren get their act together, and alright Nico Rosberg as well.
Since I am such a big Fernando fan, some of you have asked me how I think he’ll feel about having another rooster in the henhouse. I’m going to take the road less traveled here and declare that it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Here are some of the more negative opinions floating around and why I disagree, starting with those that say it is not a good move for Kimi.
“Kimi is already on a team with the ability to win titles.”
It’s true, the team now known as Lotus helped Alonso win two World Driver’s Titles when it was Renault. But Lotus has not convinced me that they can develop their car throughout the season to be on par with the big three: Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. If we go back to last year and look at the results they would be similar to the current F1 season. Lotus starts strong and does have a strong race or two in the second half, but on balance falls behind in the development effort, and that is were they end up, behind. As of this time last year Raikkonen had collected 131 points, and as of the Italian GP Raikkonen is sitting on 134 points. So Raikkonen is better off at Ferrari if he wants to win races and championships, even with a teammate such as Alonso.
“Kimi should be at Red Bull, they have the fastest car.”
Although I wrote a post on why the Vettel and Raikkonen teammate combo would have been ideal for Vettel’s legacy, and it’s true that Kimi would then be in the fastest car, taking into account Red Bull’s point of view this would not be a good choice for Raikkonen, or any top driver it must be said. There is no denying that Red Bull have wanted, and as long as Sebastian Vettel is on the team will continue to want him as the primary race winner for the Austrian outfit. And winning in F1 is hard enough without your team lobbying for one driver at the expense of the other.
Everyone has a favorite son and at Milton Keynes it is Vettel. You can’t really blame Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmet Marko, the number one and number two in charge (well I can but I’m just a blogger, so it doesn’t really matter). Vettel is their creation, he is their nationality. (Sometimes being an American it is hard for me to get into the mindset that where you come from is so important. I’m from Los Angeles, which has residents of so many origins that it’s not really an issue 99% of the time.) Inadditon, Vettel represents many years of time invested not to mention the huge financial investment that is the Red Bull young drivers program, and I don’t think that anyone in the Red Bull organization would like the Kimi party animal to come and upset that image, or show that you don’t need Red Bull to give you wings.
“Kimi will be assigned #2 status, he won’t like it.”
Not that Raikkonen would every go for this anyway, I think Ferrari would only rank their drivers when there is a clear indication that one of them is performing significantly better. For the last four years there is no question the stronger driver has been Fernando Alonso, and yes there is no question that he’s is their number one and has enjoyed different treatment as a result of this. But one quick look at the Felipe Massa’s performance vs. Alonso and it is easy to see why this is the case.
If I remember correctly back to when Massa and Raikkonen were teammates, in 2007 Raikkonen drove more competitively and although I would not characterize Massa’s moving into a supporting per se, there was a feeling that by the last two races Raikkonen had the better chance. Raikkonen went on to win the championship that year. The following year it was reversed. 2008 was the year that Massa almost won the championship, had won the championship when he crossed the finish the line in Brazil, until Lewis Hamilton on the last lap, the last turn I believe, took the championship away. So although in the Michael Schumacher years his partner was contracted to pull over and Michael was clearly the number one driver, Ferrari has also demonstrated that this is not the only way they manage their drivers. They seemed quite at ease having both go for the championship as the season started and like all teams as the season developed and one teammate starts to out-perform the other, they then make a decision to fully back the driver with the best chance at the title.
So with this precedent, Raikkonen can feel at the very least he will have a equal opportunity to enjoy the teams full support until he is no longer a candidate for the championship (if that even happens) and unlike Christian Horner who at times talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to the fair and equal treatment of his drivers, when Stefano Domenicali states that Raikkonen and Alonso will be treated as equals, I am more inclined to believe it.
Now, who thinks that this pairing is not a good idea for Alonso? Everybody but me, pretty much.
“Alonso is demanding and spoiled and can’t deal with a strong teammate.”
Well, first of all, what F1 driver isn’t demanding and spoiled? (Aside from Kimi LOL), Hamilton, Vettel, Schumacher, Senna, Alonso, just to name a few, all the same in my book. Drivers are temperamental, selfish and by necessity, political animals. This is what makes them different than ordinary people, complex and compelling. This is why they are such bad-asses and can drive on the limit all the time. This is exactly why it is so great to watch this sport, because we can’t believe our eyes and the audacity of these drivers. When Alonso is greedy and passes Massa on pit entry, or when Hamilton makes a pass stick that is beyond logic and physics, almost as to say “I’m Lewis, I’m better and I can get away with it.” It is the same reason why, secretly we admire Vettel for taking the position away from Mark in Malaysia, or Michael for parking his car at Rascasse to block Alonso’s qualifying lap a few years back. It’s that killer instinct, that win at any cost mentality, this certain temperament that makes F1 F1. If that is the temperament that Alonso is guilty of then so are all great drivers.
“Alonso won’t like it that he is not clearly #1 – just look what happened at McLaren.”
And as far as using Alonso’s short tenure at McLaren with rookie Lewis Hamilton as an example not doing well against a strong driver, as best as I can tell Alonso’s issue was never with Hamilton. It was true Hamilton got the measure of him and there was some bad blood over a fuel burn lap during qualifying in Hungary. Hamilton disobeyed team orders not letting Alonso through, and in response Alonso ruined Hamilton’s qualifying chances. Two petulant children taking matters into their own hands, but I believe there was something more happening behind closed doors, something we the public did not get to see.
Alonso has always maintained that his issue was with the team. That as the year progressed he was getting less and less support from the team based on preference instead of performance and felt that the team was unfairly sabotaging his chance of winning the title. No one will ever really know if this is true, but the mere fact that Alonso felt or sensed this is enough to destabilize any driver’s confidence and performance. I think that as long as both drivers are given a fair chance to succeed, Alonso will be very fair-minded about it.
So where does this leave us now? Everyone is curious to see what will happen next year when the Fire and Ice are teammates. I am no different, I am curious as well. Time will tell but I will be very surprised if we see the petulant Alonso of the McLaren days next year when Raikkonen is next to him in the garage. My guess it will be all business, no bulls**t
“A new teammate only helps Ferrari, not Alonso.”
As I said, I don’t think fireworks in the garage are going to be an issue. Alonso has matured quite a bit and like his good friend Mark Webber said publicly, this new challenge will only help to motivate Alonso to drive at an even high level, with even more precision. I would have to agree and I know that I am in the minority on this point. But one of the reasons I feel this is a good thing for Alonso is that you really need a teammate to push you, and for the last four years he hasn’t had that.
Alonso has driven brilliantly but could he have been even better due to a teammate that really pushed him? I already rate, as do most pundits and experts, Alonso as the most complete driver, but we could yet see even a more complete one, a driver that has found another level with the arrival of a world-class teammate like Raikkonen. No matter if the improvement is incremental. In F1 where 100ths are the difference sometimes between 2nd and 8th on the starting grid, it is these small differences that yield large gains.
And there’s yet another reason that a better teammate helps Alonso, not just Ferrari. Finally Alonso will have a teammate that can take points away from Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes next year. Those two drivers will undoubtedly be his main protagonists (as will Raikkonen) and so far at Ferrari it has been a one-man show. You only have to go back and check the final results from 2010 and 2012 to see that Alonso had virtually no help from Massa in taking points off Vettel. Whereas Vettel and Hamilton, both enjoyed that kind of help from Webber and Button. The Championship was lost in one year by five points and in another by four. And if Massa could have just once finished in front of Vettel in either of those years Alonso would be a three-time champion, maybe four. That is of course easy to say in hind-sight, but you get my point.
In sum, I expect Raikkonen to beat Alonso during the year no question, but I also expect Raikkonen to beat Vettel as well, and this will be a benefit that Alonso has not been able to count on in the four years that he’s has been at Ferrari. At the end of the day, I also expect on balance Alonso to be in front of Raikkonen by years end and that being said it probably will not be by that great a margin, say ten points give or take a few, possible even less. And that is ok. That means the team is getting the best out of its drivers and the drivers are pushing each other, which can only be seen as a good thing.
So while most of the Formula 1 world believe this is a certain train wreck waiting to happen and that one of the best drivers of this generation is in for a rough ride, and that all hell will break loose. I would disagree. I see this pairing, this super team as not just a good thing for Alonso, but also a great thing. I see Alonso not just rising to the occasion, and proving his detractors wrong, but performing in ways that we have yet to see. So bring it…
-jp- (well unless Alonso gets his clock cleaned and Kimi brings home the championship, LOL)