Kimi Raikkonen’s return to F1 isn’t
just to gain money and publicity.
It’s to show his brilliance once more.
Words Edd Straw | Main image Andrew Ferraro/LAT
What has brought Kimi Raikkonen back to Formula 1? He says that after a couple of years in rallying he realized he missed the thrill of wheel-to-wheel racing. But it’s
unlikely to be as simple as that. After all, here’s a guy who
turned his back on the sport at the end of 2009 having failed to
close a McLaren deal for ’ 10 that would have allowed him to
continue to win races.
Since then, his residual value as the ’07 World Champion
has faded to the point where it could no longer sustain his
World Rally Championship adventure – he had to sink a
substantial sum of his own money into his WRC campaign.
So was money one of the driving forces for his return, even
though his Lotus retainer of a few million is paltry compared
to the days when he was earning a reputed $30m? That, too,
seems unlikely, since initially he was talking to Williams,
a team that could neither offer him the pay packet nor the
machinery he was once accustomed to. And, once those
discussions fell apart, it took just a couple weeks for him to
sign with Lotus.
Of course, regardless of the initial motives for a return to F1,
there is then the question of whether his desire will wane once
the novelty of being back in Formula 1 has worn off. But the
Finn who, at 32, still has plenty of life left in him as an
open-wheel racer, insists that 1) he doesn’t need to be in F1 for
the cash and 2) there should never have been question marks
over his motivation in the past, either.
“You do want a certain amount of money, but I don’t need
to do it for that,” he says. “The racing is the main thing. And
there has always been talk about my motivation, but the people
who write it don’t even know me. The problem is not
motivation when a car is bad – you just drive your best and
don’t get good results. It’s not always the driver’s fault; it’s just
easier to blame the guy who’s in the car. I feel I drove one of my
best years in 2009 with Ferrari so I was very happy with that.
I never had any issues with motivation.”
At Lotus, it’s been a case of “so far, so good,” as Raikkonen
was immediately quick when strapped into a 2010-specification
Renault at Valencia in January and in the new Lotus E20 in
Barcelona in February. Just as important, he impressed the
team with his method. But then Lotus has taken a pragmatic
approach to its new No. 1 driver. With only 12 days of preseason
testing to divide up between Kimi and his teammate, fellow-F1
returnee Romain Grosjean, plus three days at Mugello in May,
there is little test work to be done. Lotus recognizes – as
McLaren did and Ferrari didn’t – that to get the best out of
Raikkonen, you need to give him space. Outside of grand prix
weekends and tests, his time will largely be his own.
“I like to race and that’s why I came to F1,” he says. “All the
rest is something that is part of F1 but it’s not the main thing.
There is not much testing now, but when you do many days in
a row at some places it’s not always the most fun thing. It