Rating Kimi Raikkonen’s technical ability
Because of his monosyllabic nature towards the media, many outsiders tend to believe that Kimi Raikkonen is incapable of communicating effectively with his engineers in developing a car and therefore is lacking in technical ability.
Raikkonen left Ferrari at the end of the 2009 season after the remaining year of his contract was bought out by the team, making way for Fernando Alonso to take his seat in 2010. In fact, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali justified his decision to replace Raikkonen with Alonso by contending that the Spanish driver is ‘better’ at development and motivating the team than the laconic Finn. “Ferrari needs someone for the team similar to [Michael] Schumacher. [Raikkonen is] very fast, but also very closed. In a car that is capable of winning, he was and is perfect – but if the car needs to be developed and the team fired up, Alonso is better,” Domenicali told German publication Auto Bild.
But what do other respected members of the F1 paddock think about Raikkonen? F1Zone.net collected quotes from team principals, engineers, drivers and journalists regarding the Finn’s communicative and technical abilities. Most recently, while taking part in this year’s Race of Champions in Düsseldorf, Jenson Button admitted that he was surprised when he heard the news but was supportive of Raikkonen’s return to F1.
Button is quoted by Autosport as saying, “From what I’ve heard from the engineers at McLaren, he knows what he’s doing in terms of engineering and setting up the car.” Adrian Newey, designer of the championship-winning Red Bull RB6 and RB7, had this to say about Raikkonen while they were both at McLaren: “Kimi and Mika [Hakkinen] have a similar way of reporting on a car’s behaviour. It’s economical in terms of vocabulary — they don’t waste words, let’s put it that way! — but the words they do use are very accurate. If Kimi makes a comment about the car, it’s worth taking notice of that comment, just as it was with Mika.”
BBC’s pitlane reporter, Ted Kravitz revealed that long after Raikkonen had left McLaren, “McLaren engineers still talk with wonder about Raikkonen’s consistent lap times. He was so good, they say, because he would come back to the pits, say what was wrong, they would fix it and he would go out and go faster. Simple.”
After Raikkonen clinched the 2007 world championship in the final round, former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, currently the team principal of Mercedes GP, said, “I was particularly pleased for Kimi because he struggled a little at the beginning to adapt to the new team, car and particularly the Bridgestone tyre characteristics. What impressed me was that he worked with his engineers, understood the issues, got on top of the situation and, importantly and in the style of Michael, he did it in a quiet way within the privacy of the team.” Chris Dyer, Raikkonen’s championship winning race engineer at Ferrari, has said in the past, “He gives a very clear feeling of what the car is doing and he seems very sensitive to changes we make to the car so really you can’t ask for more than that.” Raikkonen displayed some stunning performances in the latter half of the 2009 season after Ferrari halted development on the F60 to focus on the 2010 car.
According to F1 journalist James Allen, “His performances from July onwards in a car which Ferrari had stopped developing, were astonishing. Even the Ferrari engineers don’t fully understand how he managed to get some of the podiums he did based on the performance of his car, compared to the opposition.”
Autosport editor Jonathan Noble also reported, “One team insider suggested that, looking at the data, Raikkonen has once again been doing things in the cockpit of a very difficult car that they can hardly believe. He is going beyond what, theoretically, the F60 would be capable of in normal hands as though the Finn’s last great act of defiance is to prove to his former bosses that they were wrong.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has long been a big proponent of Raikkonen, having worked with the Finn at McLaren for five years from 2002-2006. Whitmarsh tried to sign Raikkonen after he left Ferrari in 2009, saying, “He is not political, he is absolutely straightforward – what you see is what you get with Kimi – and on top of that everyone knows that he is a winning driver. I think he has been underestimated technically.”
In an interview earlier this year with German website Motorsport-total.com, Whitmarsh also said, “I am a Kimi fan and I have never made a secret of it. I think he is an underrated driver – not underrated in that sense because everyone knows how fast he is, but I think people don’t realize how smart he is and how good the technical feedback he can give to a team.”
By signing a former world champion, Lotus-Renault have signaled that they are serious about their future in the sport. Hopefully the partnership between Renault and Raikkonen, who has been so highly rated by the people who worked with him in the past, will be successful in the seasons ahead.