After two days back in the cockpit, two things are clear – Formula One has missed Kimi Raikkonen and Kimi Raikkonen has missed Formula One. Yes, the niggles which drove him to rallying two years ago are still there, but – for now – the 2012-spec ‘Iceman’ seems suitably chilled. Another thing that hasn’t changed is his pace, which he proved in style on the opening day of this week’s Jerez test by setting the fastest time for Lotus. Raikkonen discusses progress…
Q: You clocked the best time on day one at Jerez. Was it because of a magic car or a magic Kimi?
Kimi Raikkonen: Ha, I don’t really know. On the first day the car was good, but I have to say that on the second day it was even better. If it only set the fifth-best time then it was down to the fact that we tried different things. But, for sure, coming back to the real Formula One world and immediately doing the best time on the first day of testing was not bad. It was a nice warm feeling for the ego. But, of course, to really classify what the time was worth you would need to know what program everybody else was running on. And don’t we all know that the times only really matter when we are in a real race? So, yes, it was nice, but don’t overestimate things! (laughs)
Q: So you feel comfortable in the car…
KR: Well, there are moments when the handling is easier than at other moments, but overall I am pretty happy with the car. Sure, there is always room for improvement, but I would say that it was not a bad start for Lotus and myself. At the moment the magic word is mileage – for all three of us: the team, the tyres and me.
Q: You did 117 laps on the second day. Did you start to feel it? Nothing compares to the G-forces when you drive a Formula One car…
KR: No, there were no problems whatsoever. That is why you exercise before.
Q: Topping the timesheets must have reassured you that after two years away you hadn’t lost it?
KR: To be honest it never entered my mind that I could have lost it. I knew when I drove the old car in Valencia that I would be okay. I could feel it immediately. Of course there isn’t 100 percent certainty, but it is coming close to that.
Q: When you left F1 for rallying you spoke about the monotony – the same tracks, the same hotels, the same people, and the same questions…
KR: …and nothing has changed. And believe me, I didn’t expect any change! (laughs) Sure, from that aspect rallying is much nicer, but that is a part of Formula One and if you want to race in this category you have to accept all aspects of it.
Q: So despite all these downsides you found Formula One so exciting that you came back?
KR: I found the racing so exciting. I missed the racing. And it is a fact that Formula One is the highest form of racing. So you would rather take it than leave it.
Q: Is it fair to say that driving a Formula One car is the best thing you can do with your life?
KR: Oh, I am sure there are more things that you can do in your life.
Q: But on a professional level…
KR: As I just said, if you want to compete at the highest level of racing you have to race in F1. That is what I enjoy. All the side affects you have to accept for the benefit of racing at the top level.
Q: You probably also missed winning…
KR: I don’t know if you miss winning, but of course every sound person would rather win than lose! (laughs) But it is not often that you can win all the time. It’s not that I’ve got used to winning.
Q: The team had a tough time last year but for you – in F1 – it’s been some time since you’ve raced a car not capable of winning a Grand Prix. Is that a worry?
KR: Ah, I didn’t have an outright winner of a car for many years. I would say that in 2009 I didn’t exactly have a winning car and people seem to forget that so easily. And how often do you win? Okay, I had some good wins in Formula One, but if you compare that with how long I have been in Formula One, then I haven’t won so often. But that is obviously part of a career.
Q: When did the idea of returning really take shape?
KR: That was during the summer when I was doing some NASCAR races. I enjoyed that direct fight with competitors again, the wheel-to-wheel fight. I realised that I was missing it. In rallying you also race against people, but not physically, and it was that physical aspect that I really missed. After that realisation, I spoke to my managers and they started to sort things out for me.
Q: Why didn’t the negotiations with Williams work out?
KR: We simply didn’t find a solution that would satisfy both sides. You know how it is – one side wants something and the other something else, so you drift apart. That’s how it goes sometimes in life. And sometimes the bad comes good. I am very happy where I am now.
Q: Lotus team Principal Eric Boullier said that when he told the team that you were joining it immediately boosted morale. Did you expect you would ever be a morale booster?
KR: I know that the team had a tough year last season, but they have great people and so far it has been a good experience joining them. I hope we can have a good experience together in the months to come – and that will be an even bigger morale boost! If you ask me what my goal is for this season then the answer is that I don’t know. You must wait until the first couple of races and then I will probably be able to give a hint.
Q: During your two-year sabbatical you didn’t once attend a Grand Prix. Why?
KR: Well, I went to Monaco twice, but not to see the cars, only for business. And if you want to see cars properly – as someone like me, who is really interested in how the cars change, does – then you come to a test. And if you want to see the race then you see it on TV.
Q: Do you think anything significant has changed over the last two years?
KR: Not really, except for the tyres and having a different manufacturer for the tyres. The cars haven’t changed too much and everything else is business as usual.